Stocks - Europe Boosted by Heineken Gains; Virus Fears Wane

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Stocks - Europe Boosted by Heineken Gains; Virus Fears Wane
Credit: © Reuters.

By Peter Nurse - European stock markets pushed higher Wednesday, helped by strong earnings from the likes of brewing giant Heineken (AS: HEIN ) and chemicals company Akzo Nobel (AS: AKZO ), amid signs that the coronavirus outbreak is peaking.

At 04:08 ET (0908 GMT), the U.K.'s FTSE index was trading 18 points, or 0.2%, higher, France's CAC 40 was up 18 points, or 0.3%, while the DAX gained 75 points, or 0.6%. The Stoxx 600 index, which represents a broad swathe of companies across 17 countries in Europe, traded 0.3% higher, albeit off a new record high of 430.30 it hit earlier.

Shares in Heineken (AS: HEIN ), the world's second-largest brewer, soared over 5% after the company said it expects operating profit this year to grow by a mid-single digit percentage. It reported a 14% rise in 2019 net profit, with solid increases in both volumes and average selling prices in the fourth quarter. The brewer announced on Tuesday Jean-François van Boxmeer is to step down after almost 15 years at the helm.

Shares in Kering (PA: PRTP ) climbed over 3% after the Gucci owner posted higher-than-expected sales for the fourth quarter of 2019. It warned that the coronavirus health scare in China could heighten uncertainties for the luxury goods market.

On the flip side, shares in Dutch bank ABN AMRO (AS: ABNd ) fell over 6% after missing expectations for its fourth quarter net earnings as interest income fell and impairments rose.

Earlier Wednesday, an influential economist at a top government think tank Wednesday helped the tone by saying China will be able to achieve its long-term goal of doubling gross domestic product and incomes in the decade to 2020, despite the impact from the coronavirus.

This comes amid signs the outbreak may be peaking at the epicenter of the crisis. Authorities in Hubei, the province where the outbreak likely originated, said there were an additional 1,638 confirmed cases of the virus Wednesday. That is almost one-third less than the previous day's new cases, suggesting that the spread of the virus may be leveling off in this key province.

However, Taiwan News reported that Chinese authorities have stopped counting new cases if patients display no symptoms. As the incubation period of the disease can last up to 24 days, this would appear to create a significant risk of undercounting.

Back in Europe, the economic calendar in Europe is thinly populated Wednesday, with the only release of note being the December industrial production figure for the euro zone, at 05:00 AM ET (1000 GMT). This is expected to illustrate the extent of the manufacturing slowdown in the region.

Elsewhere, the oil market has pushed higher Wednesday, rebounding a touch after recent losses. The release of the latest OPEC monthly report, at 06:00 AM ET (1100 GMT), should provide some guidance as to the key developments impacting oil market trends in world oil demand, supply as well as the oil market balance. The U.S. government cut its forecast for world oil demand this year by 300,000 barrels a day.

U.S. crude futures traded 1.7% higher at $50.80 a barrel and the international benchmark Brent contract rose 2.2% to $55.18. Additionally, gold futures fell 0.3% to $1,565.75/oz while EUR/USD traded at 1.0923, up 0.1%.

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