EUROPE MARKETS: French Stocks Rise Ahead Of European Peers Despite Election Risk

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Publicis, Pernod lead advance on CAC after earnings releases

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French stocks rose Thursday, performing better than broader European equities, as gains for Publicis Groupe SA and Pernod Ricard SA helped relieve pressure from concerns over the outcome of Sunday's presidential election vote.

In Paris, the CAC 40 moved up 0.8% to 5,043.71. That was better than the Stoxx Europe 600 , which trudged up 0.1% and has been slipping between small gains and losses. The pan-European index was held back by losses in the commodity sector, but consumer goods and financial shares were rising.

France factor: Investors were sifting through a new batch of earnings reports Thursday. Publicis (PUB.FR) was among the top share-price performers on the back of its financial results. Shares popped up 2.3%, on track for their 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 1.6%. The producer of Absolut vodka and Martell cognac posted a 1% rise in third-quarter underlying sales.

The CAC 40 leapt as much as 1.1% intraday following a Harris Interactive poll that showed centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron with 25% support among respondents ahead of the 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 has called for France to ditch the euro and its membership in the European Union.

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The euro also climbed, hitting a three-week high of $1.0778 before paring the gain to $1.0746.

A win for the CAC 40 on Thursday would be its second in a row, coming after five straight sessions of losses.

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)

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.

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)

Stock movers: Unilever (ULVR.LN) (ULVR.LN) shares picked up 1.2% 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 6.6% 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) on strong fund inflows and a weaker dollar.

BMW AG (BMW.XE) said pretax profit in the first three months of the year rose about 27%, beating market expectations, but shares were off 0.4%. The better-than-expected result stemmed from "valuation effects," the luxury car maker said.

Indexes: In Frankfurt, the DAX 30 was down fractionally at 12,011.93, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 fell 0.1% to 7,107.06 (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 09:11 ET (13:11 GMT)