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European stocks rise after soft US services data, easing EZ inflation

Published 04/03/2024, 03:49 AM
Updated 04/03/2024, 12:31 PM
© Reuters. The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, April 2, 2024.     REUTERS/Staff

By Ankika Biswas, Johann M Cherian and Ozan Ergenay

(Reuters) -European stocks gained on Wednesday after a softer-than-expected U.S. services sector data, while investors also assessed softening euro zone inflation data that cemented the case for European Central Bank interest rate cuts.

The continent-wide STOXX 600 closed 0.3% higher, recovering from a two-week intraday low. The index has been hitting record highs, with hopes of rate cuts this year and optimism around artificial intelligence buoying sentiment over the past two quarters.

Barclays raised its year-end target for the benchmark index to 540 from 510, turning bullish on the broader region on bets on easing borrowing costs, cheaper valuations and improving domestic growth.

Banks topped sectoral gainers, rising 1.4% to hit their highest level since early 2018, while euro zone banks also gained 1.5%.

An Institute for Supply Management survey showed U.S. services industry growth slowed further in March, while a measure of prices paid by businesses for inputs dropped to a four-year low, boding well for inflation outlook.

Another set showed euro zone inflation fell unexpectedly last month.

"It seems too early to conclude that the last mile of the disinflation process has been successfully conquered," HSBC economists wrote.

"However, while one swallow might not make a spring, it certainly helps open the door to an ECB rate cut."

Following the data, ECB policymaker Pablo Hernandez de Cos told a financial event in Barcelona that rate cuts could come in June.

While the ECB is expected to leave rates unchanged at its policy meeting next week, markets see a 71% chance of a 25-basis-points rate cut in June. [0#ECBWATCH]

As for other sectors, technology rose 0.9%. A powerful earthquake in Taiwan raised concerns about disruptions to the vital chip-making industry, which had spearheaded much of the global rally in the previous quarter.

Among individual movers, Forvia climbed 5.4% after upbeat analysts comments ahead of the European car parts maker's first-quarter results due on April 18.

Italy's FinecoBank gained 6% after J.P.Morgan upgraded the online bank and brokerage firm to "overweight" from "neutral", while German chipmaker Infineon (OTC:IFNNY) rose 2.4% on a Morgan Stanley upgrade to "overweight."

Verbund lost 4.6% after Stifel downgraded the Austrian utility firm to "sell" from "hold".

© Reuters. The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, April 2, 2024.     REUTERS/Staff

Swiss Re (OTC:SSREY) dropped 3.6% as the reinsurance firm is set to appoint its corporate solutions boss Andreas Berger as group chief executive, replacing long-serving CEO Christian Mumenthaler.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported Italy is set to lower its GDP growth forecasts this year and next amid clouded economic outlook. However, Italian stocks rose 0.5%, in line with regional peers.

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