(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window)
* Cyclical stocks lead gains again
* London's FTSE hit by stronger pound
* Maersk gains after Berenberg upgrade
(Updates to market close)
By Sruthi Shankar
Jan 12 (Reuters) - European stocks closed flat on Tuesday, with economically sensitive sectors including banks, automakers and oil supporting markets across the continent.
Investors are awaiting the start of the U.S. earnings season this week as well as clarity on fiscal spending plans under incoming U.S. President Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20.
In Europe, automakers .SXAP jumped 1.7% to lead gains after Renault RENA.PA , BMW BMWG.DE and VW VOWG_p.DE reported 2020 sales. U.S. carmaking rivals also got a boost after General Motors (NYSE: GM ) GM.N announced its entry into the growing electric delivery vehicle business. cyclicals such as banks .SX7P , travel and leisure .SXTP and oil and gas .SXEP extended last week's rally on hopes that a larger U.S. stimulus under the incoming Biden administration will spur faster economic recovery.
Still, losses in defensive sectors such as healthcare, utilities and consumer staples checked gains in most markets.
"Investors are still wondering where the next big catalyst for further upside will come from, and are painfully aware that the COVID-19 crisis remains untamed despite the introduction of vaccination programmes," Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG wrote in a client note.
Britain's exporter-heavy FTSE 100 .FTSE underperformed other European markets, hit by a stronger pound and a surge in new COVID-19 cases. GBP/
Companies listed on Europe's STOXX 600 are expected to report a 26.3% drop in fourth-quarter earnings, data from Refinitiv I/B/E/S shows, as restrictions to control soaring coronavirus cases slowed an economic recovery.
That comes ahead of a clear improvement predicted for the first two quarters of 2021, when earnings are set to rise 40.4% and 75.1% respectively. MAERSKb.CO rose 3.4% after brokerage Berenberg upgraded the Danish shipping company's shares to "buy", saying earnings momentum driven by freight prices could see it run higher. online pharmacy chain Zur Rose ROSEG.S hit a record high, surging almost 15% to the top of STOXX 600, after BofA Global Research started coverage with "buy" rating.
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