Europe's Stocks Close Mixed Amid Concerns Over Recovery; PMIs Offer Positive Surprise

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  • The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended up 0.02%, with sectors and major bourses pointing in opposite directions.
  • Mining and construction stocks led the gains, rising 1.2%, while autos slipped 1.5%.
  • Many regions globally are seeing an increase in new Covid-19 cases as highly contagious variants continue to spread, the World Health Organization said earlier this week.

LONDON — European stocks closed mixed on Wednesday amid renewed concerns over the global economic recovery outlook and a surge of Covid infections.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended up 0.02%, with sectors and major bourses pointing in opposite directions. Mining and construction stocks led the gains, rising 1.2%, while autos slipped 1.5%.

The lackluster trade in Europe follows a similar pattern in Asia-Pacific, where shares were largely lower as concerns over the world's recovery from the pandemic weighed on investor sentiment. However, U.S. stocks climbed on Wall Street, recouping losses from the previous session.

Many regions globally are seeing an increase in new Covid-19 cases as highly contagious variants continue to spread, the World Health Organization said earlier this week.

In Europe, authorities continue to struggle with the virus as the region experiences a third Covid wave that has prompted France and Germany to extend lockdown measures.

Preliminary estimates Wednesday showed that euro zone business activity unexpectedly grew in March, though renewed lockdown measures are expected to bite at the next reading. IHS Markit's composite PMI (purchasing managers' index) came in at 52.5 for March, up from 48.0 in February, with the 50 mark separating contraction from expansion.

The U.K. equivalent rose to 56.6 in March from 49.6 in February, significantly outpacing economists' expectations.

"Today's bumper survey results indicate that U.K. growth should boom as the benefits of the successful vaccine rollout start to shine through into rising economic optimism, new orders and hiring," said Mike Bell, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

"With huge amounts of pent up savings and with everyone desperate to return to normality once restrictions are lifted, business optimism in the service sector increased to the highest level since 2004."

Concerns about the recovery come on the one-year anniversary of the market bottom. Stocks have since rebounded with the S&P 500 rallying about 80% from the low a year ago, marking the best start to a new bull market on record. 

Earnings Wednesday come from E.On and Bellway, while Commerzbank releases its annual report.

Stocks on the move

ASML and ASM International shares jumped 4.2% and 5.2%, respectively, leading a rally for chipmakers and the wider tech sector after Intel's announcement.

The chip giant led gains stateside on Wednesday after unveiling plans for a comeback, saying it was opening two new factories to manufacture its own chips and ones for other companies.

At the top of the Stoxx 600, Tui shares gained 6.7% after the Anglo-German travel operator announced the closure of 48 more stores in the U.K.

At the bottom of the European blue chip index, InPost fell 9.4% after announcing the launch of a label-free returns service with Missguided.

Swiss travel retailer Dufry fell 7% after launching a voluntary incentivized conversion offer of convertible bonds due in 2023.

Italian defense and aerospace company Leonardo also dropped 6% after postponing the public listing of its U.S. electronics unit DRS.

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