EUROPE MARKETS: French Stocks Jump By The Most In 7 Weeks As Election Nears

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Publicis, Pernod lead advance on CAC after earnings releases

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French stocks leapt by the most in seven weeks Thursday, ending higher as gains for Publicis Groupe SA and Pernod Ricard SA helped relieve pressure from concerns over the outcome of Sunday's first-round presidential election vote.

In Paris, the CAC 40 rose 1.5% to 5,077.91, the strongest percentage rise since March 1, FactSet data showed.

French equities outperformed the broader European market, with the Stoxx Europe 600 notching a 0.2% advance to end at 378.06, after slipping between small gains and losses. The pan-European index was held back by declines in the oil and gas and utility sectors, but the industrial, financial and technology groups printed gains.

France factor: The CAC 40 ran higher following a Harris Interactive poll that showed centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron with 25% support among respondents ahead of Sunday's first round of voting in France's presidential election. That's slightly higher than 22% for far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, who's called for France to ditch the euro and its membership in the European Union.

Read:Here's how France's hotly contested election could spark market turmoil (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-how-frances-hotly-contested-election-could-spark-market-turmoil-2017-04-19)

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(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-how-frances-hotly-contested-election-could-spark-market-turmoil-2017-04-19)The euro also climbed, hitting a three-week high of $1.0778. It later traded around $1.0765 compared with $1.0712 late Wednesday.

Also see:Here's a sign euro traders are dangerously complacent about the French election (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-a-sign-euro-traders-are-dangerously-complacent-about-the-french-election-2017-04-20)

Thursday's win for the CAC was its second in a row, coming after five straight sessions of losses.

French stocks have been under pressure on worries about the outcome of Sunday's vote. Polling suggests a tight contest between the four main candidates, raising worries the final two contenders going through to the second round of voting could be two euroskeptics: far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

"[With] four candidates polling around 20%, there is every reason for caution," said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital, in a note.

"We're looking at contingency plans in the event of a Le Pen-Melenchon runoff as this would spark a big selloff in the euro and French government bonds, as well as bank stocks," he wrote.

In Paris trade Thursday, Publicis (PUB.FR) popped up 2.8%, the best session since December, after the advertising heavyweight posted a smaller-than-expected decline in first-quarter sales (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/publicis-dragged-down-by-loss-of-us-accounts-2017-04-20-14854420).

At the same time, shares of French spirits group Pernod Ricard (RI.FR) climbed 1.1%. The producer of Absolut vodka and Martell cognac posted a 1% rise in third-quarter underlying sales.

Read:When are the French election results out on Sunday? (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/when-are-the-french-election-results-out-on-sunday-2017-04-20)

Also:Here's how France's hotly contested election could spark market turmoil (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-how-frances-hotly-contested-election-could-spark-market-turmoil-2017-04-19)

Stock movers: Unilever (ULVR.LN) (ULVR.LN) shares rose 0.3%, but pared stronger gains, after the Dove soap and Ben & Jerry's ice cream maker reported a rise in underlying sales for the first quarter (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unilever-sales-rise-but-lag-in-europe-us-2017-04-20). Meanwhile, Kit Kat chocolate maker Nestlé SA (NESN.EB) said first-quarter revenue was largely flat from a year earlier. Shares traded higher by 0.4%.

The reports from the consumer-products heavyweights highlighted reliance on emerging markets for growth in the face of softer spending in the U.S. and Western Europe. See:Unilever, Nestlé struggle with cautious consumers (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unilever-nestle-struggle-with-cautious-consumers-2017-04-20)

Man Group PLC (EMG.LN) leapt 7.1% to the top of the Stoxx 600 as the investment manager said quarterly funds under management rose 10%. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/man-group-posts-10-rise-in-funds-under-management-2017-04-20)

BMW AG (BMW.XE) said quarterly pretax profit rose about 27%, beating market expectations. The better-than-expected result stemmed from "valuation effects," the German luxury car maker said. Shares swung higher to close up 0.4%.

Indexes: In Frankfurt, the DAX 30 closed up 0.1% at 12,027.32, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 eked out a 0.1% rise to 7,118.54 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unilever-shares-push-ftse-toward-first-win-in-5-days-2017-04-20).

Read:Why the snap U.K. election is a 'game-changer' for the pound (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-why-the-pound-surged-to-10-week-high-after-may-called-snap-uk-election-2017-04-18)

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 20, 2017 12:46 ET (16:46 GMT)