EUROPE MARKETS: European Stocks End At Almost 21-month High After Earnings Deluge

By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

France's CAC 40 index closes at highest since 2008

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Europe's benchmark stock index closed at almost 21-month high on Thursday, boosted by a round of well-received earnings reports from heavyweights such as Royal Dutch Shell PLC and HSBC Holdings PLC.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.7% to end at 391.98, closing at its highest level since August 2015.

The pan-European benchmark has put on 3.1% over the past month, thanks in part to bets that French voters will elect market-friendly candidate Emmanuel Macron in Sunday's presidential election and reject far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has threatened to pull the country out of the European Union.

A televised debate between Macron and Le Pen on Wednesday evening was seen as doing little to change the 20 points lead for Macron.

Read:Brace for market mayhem if Le Pen unexpectedly wins French presidency (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/brace-for-market-mayhem-if-le-pen-unexpectedly-wins-french-presidency-2017-05-04)

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"Generally well-received large cap earnings led the way in European equities, where political risk was priced out further in the run-up to the French election," said senior market analyst at London Capital Group.

"A confident display from market-favourite Emmanuel Macron in Wednesday evening's French presidential debates makes the odds seemingly impassable for Marine Le Pen," he added.

France's CAC 40 index ended up 1.4% at 5,372.42, its highest close since 2008.

Germany's DAX 30 index gained 1% to 12,647.78, a record close. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index gained 0.2% to 7,248.10.

Stock movers: A deluge of earnings helped steer the markets on Thursday.

Shares of HSBC Holdings PLC (HSBA.LN) (HSBA.LN) (HSBA.LN) jumped 2.9% after the U.K. banking heavyweight reported a bigger-than-expected first-quarter profit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hsbc-profit-beats-views-spurring-buyback-hopes-2017-05-04).

French bank Société Générale SA (GLE.FR) gained 0.6% even after posting a 19% decline in quarterly profit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/societe-generale-profit-down-19-settles-with-lia-2017-05-04). The bank also said it has settled a legal dispute (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/societe-generale-libya-fund-to-settle-fraud-case-2017-05-04) with the Libyan Investment Authority over alleged bribery during the final years of dictator Moammar Gadhafi's rule.

In the energy sector, shares of Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN) (RDSB.LN) added 0.1%, but had traded with a gain of as much as 3.6% earlier in the day. The oil giant said its profit more than quadrupled (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/shell-profits-soar-as-oil-sector-makes-a-comeback-2017-05-04) in the first quarter as it benefited from an increase in oil prices.

In the same vein, Statoil ASA (STL.OS) (STL.OS) added 0.4% after earnings beat forecasts (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/statoil-earnings-beat-expectations-2017-05-04). The oil majors started to pare gains as oil prices slumped more than 4% (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oil-prices-sink-to-lowest-levels-since-november-2017-05-04).

Adidas AG (ADS.XE) (ADS.XE) climbed 0.9% after the German sportswear retailer posted a rise in profit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/adidas-profit-rises-on-strong-us-demand-2017-05-04), buoyed by strong sales in North America.

Anheuser-Busch InBev SA (ABI.BT) (ABI.BT) put on 5.2% after the world's largest brewer by sales reported a sharp rise in profit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ab-inbev-profit-surges-amid-us-brazil-headwinds-2017-05-04).

Peer brewer Carlsberg AS (CARL-A.KO) gained 2.8% following a 5% rise in revenue (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/carlsberg-quarterly-revenue-rises-5-2017-05-04).

Among decliners, shares of Siemens AG (SIE.XE) (SIE.XE) slipped 0.6%. The German industrial conglomerate's second-quarter profit was little changed from the year ago, as losses from discontinued operations weighed on profit margins.

Shares of Next PLC (NXT.LN) slumped 5.1% after the U.K. retailer lowered its full-year sales forecast (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/next-warns-of-full-year-sales-profit-shortfall-2017-05-04).

Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC (RR.LN) (RR.LN) gave up 1.5% even after the engine maker said it expects sterling weakness to benefit earnings this year (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/rolls-royce-warns-on-earnings-hit-from-weak-pound-2017-05-04).

Economic news: The final eurozone services purchasing managers index for April rose to 56.4, up from a flash estimate of 56.2 and higher than March's 56 reading. The composite PMI came in at 56.8, up from 56.4 in March and marking a six-year high. A reading above 50 signals expansion in the economy.

"The encouraging picture from the survey data is likely to help raise many forecasters' expectations of eurozone economic growth in 2017, and will also no doubt add to speculation that ECB rhetoric will turn increasingly hawkish," said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit in a note.

The euro traded at $1.0966, up from $1.0887 late Wednesday in New York.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 04, 2017 12:50 ET (16:50 GMT)