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Europe: Casino jumps, financials provide support as shares pause for breath


[LONDON] European shares inched higher on Thursday, with investors less keen to chase the previous session's strong rally that came on the back of the relatively dovish tone struck by Fed chair Janet Yellen overnight.

The pan-European STOXX 600 was up 0.3 per cent at its close while blue-chips gained 0.4 per cent, with rate-sensitive real estate stocks, which were top gainers on Wednesday, tracking more modest gains.

On Wednesday, the European benchmark posted its best day since Emmanuel Macron's victory in the first round of French presidential elections, as banks and yield plays rallied.

"With stocks having come off in the last few weeks, maybe investors were thinking now is the time to take the opportunity of that pullback and add some more," said Mike Bell, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management. "Yellen's speech was a catalyst for that."

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Cyclicals were back to the fore on Thursday with banks, which gain from higher rates, up 0.9 per cent.

"Our view remains that government bond yields will move higher, and that leaves us still favouring the less rate-sensitive parts of the stock market, cyclicals, while we're more cautious on defensives," Mr Bell added.

Commerzbank led the sector higher with a gain of 2.7 per cent after saying that it was well on its way to reach its job reduction goals.

Earnings began trickling in from a string of French companies.

Supermarket Casino jumped 3.6 per cent, bolstering gains among retailers, after its second-quarter sales growth accelerated, helped by a brightening domestic picture and a resilient performance in Brazil despite the recession there.

"The beat is likely helped by good weather annualizing against a period of poor weather and strikes," said Bernstein retail analyst Bruno Monteyne. "What's not clear at this stage is whether, like Carrefour, the sales beat at Casino will have come at the cost of higher promotions and price cuts," he added.

Umicore jumped nearly 4 per cent higher after a top-ranked analyst at ABN Amro added the Belgian chemicals group to their 'conviction list', citing capacity increases in the company's battery business, as growth prospects for the electric car industry improve.

Tullow Oil also benefited from a positive broker view, with its shares up 5.6 per cent and leading the STOXX after Numis upgraded its on the energy stock rating to "buy" from"add".

Drugmaker AstraZeneca was among the worst European performers after a report that Chief Executive Pascal Soriot was to be named CEO of Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.