EUROPE MARKETS: European Stocks Finish At Fresh 21-month High

By Carla Mozee and Victor Reklaitis, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

AXA to take U.S. life-insurance unit public

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European stocks closed with small gains Wednesday, helping the region's benchmark to a fresh 21-month high.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index edged up 0.2% to finish at 396.45, its highest closing level since August 2015.

That comes after the pan-European gauge tacked on 0.5% on Tuesday. The index is up 9.7% this year, after getting a boost ahead of markets-friendly Emmanuel Macron's victory in the French presidential election on Sunday.

"While markets are relieved at not having to fret any more about the prospect of a political and populist upheaval in Europe, there is some uncertainty as to whether we can go higher from here or whether we need a brief pullback first," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

"Either way, investors don't appear to be too concerned about the risks of sharp selloffs, given the low levels seen in various index volatility indicators which are sitting at multiyear lows," he said in a note.

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The Euro Stoxx 50 Volatility Index dropped to its lowest level since March on Monday and fell further Tuesday, then gained slightly Wednesday.

See:Low volatility means 'historic opportunities' to buy options, Goldman says (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/low-volatility-means-historic-opportunities-to-buy-options-goldman-says-2017-05-09)

Also: Why are markets ignoring the black swans? asks Nouriel Roubini (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-are-markets-ignoring-geopolitical-risks-2017-05-08)

In the U.S., stocks were little changed (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stocks-poised-to-edge-lower-after-trump-fires-fbis-comey-2017-05-10) Wednesday as European markets closed, bouncing back from earlier loss that some analysts had blamed in part on President Donald Trump's surprise firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-fires-fbi-director-comey-democrats-call-for-special-prosecutor-in-russia-probe-2017-05-09). Market moves across the pond can help drive investor sentiment in Europe.

Stock movers: ING Groep NV rose 1.3% as the Dutch bank's first-quarter underlying pretax profit rose 39%, (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ing-net-profit-slips-but-pretax-profit-up-39-2017-05-10) boosted by continued loan growth.

AXA SA (AXAHY) closed 0.2% lower as the French insurance company said it plans to take its large U.S. life-insurance operations public (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/french-insurer-axa-plans-to-list-shares-in-us-2017-05-10). AXA also said first-quarter revenue was nearly flat (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/axa-revenue-nearly-flat-as-revenue-misses-views-2017-05-10).

Barratt Developments PLC (BDEV.LN) gained 2.3%. The home builder said its fiscal 2017 pretax profit will come in at top end of analysts' expectations (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/barratt-sees-2017-profit-at-top-end-of-views-2017-05-10).

BPER Banca SpA (BPE.MI) fell 5.7% after Kepler Cheuvreux cut its price target on the Italian lender to 5.9 euros from 6.1 euros, but confirmed its buy recommendation, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

GEA Group AG (G1A.XE) dropped 5.1% as Citi lowered its per-share earnings view on the German food-processing technology company, citing intensifying margin pressures. The price target was slightly lowered to EUR42 from EUR42.50, "as better cash flow mitigates our EPS cuts".

National indexes: The German DAX 30 index rose 0.1% to end at 12,757.467 for another record close. France's CAC 40 gained less than 0.1% to finish at 5,400.46. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 was up 0.6% at 7,385.24.

Economic data: French industrial production rose a more-than-expected 2% in March (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/french-industrial-production-rises-more-than-seen-2017-05-10)on a surge in output of manufactured goods.

Around 15% of eurozone workers are unemployed or underemployed, according to a European Central Bank estimate (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/eurozones-unemployedunderemployed-rate-at-15-2017-05-10) released Wednesday. That suggests wages and inflation in the 19-country bloc are unlikely to pick up for some time.

Read:The ECB should avoid the temptation to cancel QE (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-ecb-should-avoid-the-temptation-to-cancel-qe-2017-05-10)

The euro fetched $1.0870, little changed from $1.0875 late Tuesday in New York.

(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-are-markets-ignoring-geopolitical-risks-2017-05-08)

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 10, 2017 12:31 ET (16:31 GMT)