European shares advance on rate optimism; UK election in focus

By Jesus Calero, Shubham Batra and Shristi Achar A

(Reuters) -European shares rose on Thursday amid optimism around U.S. interest rate cuts following soft economic data, while London markets gained as voting began in the UK general election with polls predicting a historic victory for the Labour party.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.6% to a more one-week high.

Britain’s FTSE 100 advanced 0.8%, with markets waiting to see how large a majority the Labour Party might win.

“The UK outcome, widely expected to be a Labour victory, won’t have much impact unless there’s a big upset or surprising outcome, as markets have likely already discounted this,” said Bas van Geffen, senior macro strategist at Rabobank.

French stocks advanced for a second day with a 0.8% rise amid intensified efforts by opponents of France’s National Rally (RN) to prevent the far-right party from gaining power.

An opinion poll on Thursday showed RN is expected to fall short of an absolute majority in the second round of a parliamentary election on Sunday.

The European lenders sub-index, which includes French lenders such as Societe Generale and BNP Paribas, gained on the news, up 1.3% and leading sectoral gains.

Weak U.S. data boosted sentiment on the likelihood of Federal Reserve rate cuts. First-time applications for U.S. unemployment benefits increased last week, indicating a cooling labour market.

In Europe, German industrial orders fell unexpectedly in May, while another report showed Swiss inflation fell last month, encouraging markets to shorten their odds that the central bank will cut interest rates again later this year.

“Today’s headlines may create dovish risk, but the stickiness in services and domestic inflation at the high end of the (Swiss National Bank)’s target corridor or above may be a concern,” strategists at Citigroup noted.

Meanwhile, European Central Bank policymakers were mostly confident that inflation would continue to fall but some felt uneasy about cutting interest rates last month given a slew of negative surprises, the accounts of their meeting showed.

Among individual stocks, Britain’s Smith & Nephew rose 6.8% after activist investor Cevian Capital disclosed a 5% stake in the medical equipment maker.

France’s Pluxee fell 9.2% after the voucher and benefits company reported weaker-than-expected third-quarter sales in Europe on Wednesday.

Sweden’s Ericsson slipped 1.2% after the telecoms equipment maker recorded another impairment charge of 11.4 billion Swedish crowns ($1.09 billion) in the second quarter of 2024.

Trading volumes were low on account of a public holiday in the United States.

(Reporting by Jesus Calero in Gdansk and Shubham Batra and Shristi Achar A in Bengaluru; Editing by Mrigank Dhaniwala, Varun H K and Alex Richardson)


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