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Europe: Post-midterms rally in stocks fizzles out

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[LONDON] European shares were flat to slightly higher on Thursday as a rally following US midterm elections sputtered while strong results from Societe Generale, Commerzbank, and Sodexo soothed concerns about corporate earnings.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 was up just 0.2 per cent by the close after a strong rally following Tuesday's US vote. In early dealings, the index hit its highest since Oct 10.

The leading index of euro zone stocks closed down 0.3 per cent, however, with Germany's DAX down 0.5 per cent and France's CAC 40 0.1 per cent lower.

"It's looking less robust in general" as investors take a more cautious stance ahead of the US Federal Reserve's meeting later in the day, said Ken Odeluga, market analyst at CityIndex.

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"We think European investors will quickly refocus on the remainder of earnings season, economic data and the outcome of Brexit and Italian budget negotiations," said Pierre Bose, head of European Strategy, International Wealth Management at Credit Suisse.

Results spurred some strong stock gains.

Banking and insurance were among the top-performing sectors, up 0.5 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively, thanks to some strong results.

Shares in Italy's third-largest lender Banco BPM jumped as much as 8.9 per cent, then pared gains to close 2.6 per cent higher, after its third-quarter net profit beat forecasts thanks to lower costs and an asset sale that helped offset flat fees and falling interest income.

Commerzbank and SocGen were up 5.2 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively after solid earnings updates.

German construction materials firm Wienerberger also rose after results, topping the STOXX with a 6.3 per cent gain.

The world's largest brickmaker reported a 25 per cent jump in third-quarter operating profit, helped by cost savings and solid demand.

Investors shrugged off news that UBS, Switzerland's largest bank, faces another potentially costly legal battle as the US Department of Justice draws up civil charges over the sale of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

The bank has said it will contest any complaint vigorously.

Analysts at Zuercher Kantonalbank reckoned more than half of the 1.2 billion Swiss francs (S$1.65 billion) UBS has set aside for non-core legal risks was dedicated to the US case.

Shares in the Swiss bank were up 1.3 per cent.

Sodexo was flying high after the world's second-biggest catering company's better-than-expected revenue. Shares jumped 5.1 per cent to their highest since March, and sealed their best day since July.

German engineering company Siemens rose modestly, up 0.8 per cent after it said it expects to notch up "moderate" sales growth next year, bucking the trend of boardroom caution.

It wasn't all good news though.

Shares of broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 plunged 14.5 per cent to the bottom of the Stoxx 600, hitting their lowest level in more than six years after the firm cut its dividend and warned on its full-year outlook.

ProSieben peer RTL also tumbled 7.6 per cent after its earnings missed expectations due to a lower contribution from RTL Deutschland, with Morgan Stanley saying advertising revenues in Germany had fallen.

Inmarsat sank 8.6 percent after its results revealed weakness in its maritime division.

Shares in German chemicals group Brenntag fell 6.2 per cent to their lowest level since July 2016, the day after it reported earnings which missed expectations.

Oil stocks tumbled 0.5 per cent as crude prices neared three-month lows with investors focusing on global crude supply increasing.

REUTERS