European stocks make strong start to September, record high in sight

(Reuters) -European stocks closed higher on Wednesday as fresh signs of weakness in Asian economies were offset by hopes for more stimulus, while investors shook off concerns about rising inflation.

FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany August 30, 2021. REUTERS/Staff

After seven straight months of gains, the pan-European STOXX 600 rose 0.5% to end at 473.12 points, and was within striking distance of its record high of 476.16.

Retail and travel & leisure stocks were the top sectoral gainers, rising 1.8% each.

Airline SAS gained 2.4% after reporting a smaller quarterly loss as air travel gradually picked up.

Consumer-exposed sectors benefited from data that showed euro zone unemployment fell as expected in July.

Spain’s Inditex, which owns fashion brand Zara, was among the best performing retail stocks after JP Morgan forecast strong second-quarter results for the firm. The stock rose 3.1%.

A survey also showed euro zone manufacturing growth remained strong in August, but supply chain issues drove up prices and fed into inflation, which could affect monetary policy in the near term.

Investors were unsettled after data on Tuesday showed euro zone inflation surged to a 10-year-high in August, while an European Central Bank policymaker called on the bank to reduce its emergency bond purchases as soon as the next quarter.

The bloc’s banks continued to benefit from rising government bond yields. [GVD/EUR]

“Elevated inflation in the U.S. and Europe, weak retail sales in Germany and a slowdown in China all suggest that the market should be factoring in a temporary slowdown in economic activity,” Sebastien Galy, senior macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management, said.

“What the market is focused on instead is that liquidity should remain very ample from the People’s Bank of China to a slow pace of tapering from the Fed and eventually one from the ECB.”

Supermarket group Carrefour was the worst performer on the STOXX 600, down 5.5% as luxury goods billionaire Bernard Arnault sold the 5.7% stake he owned in the company.

French spirits maker Pernod Ricard rose 3.7% after it posted a stronger-than-expected rise in full-year operating profit, driven by a strong rebound in demand in China and the United States.

French diagnostics specialist BioMerieux climbed 4.0% after it confirmed its full-year earnings target.

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