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Europe: Stocks hold onto four-month highs on trade talks hopes

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European stocks hovered around their highest level in four months on Monday as hopes of progress in US-China trade talks kept sentiment afloat while Wall Street was closed for a bank holiday.

[LONDON] European stocks hovered around their highest level in four months on Monday as hopes of progress in US-China trade talks kept sentiment afloat while Wall Street was closed for a bank holiday.

The Stoxx 600 closed up 0.2 per cent, steadying at its highest level since Oct 10.

French car parts maker Faurecia climbed 1.3 per cent after saying it hoped to outperform the market this year and reported margin expansion, though it warned of negative auto production growth in general.

"2019 guidance is more cautious on growth, but resilient margins and FCF should limit any downgrades," said Jefferies analysts.

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Faurecia's gain bucked the trend in the autos sector which fell 0.3 per cent, lagging the market after data showed car sales in China fell for a seventh straight month.

Investors in the auto sector were also on tenterhooks after the US Commerce Department sent its report on national security and car imports to President Trump, setting the stage for possible tariffs.

Leading the market, Wirecard shares jumped 15.2 per cent after German market regulator BaFin banned the establishment or increase of short positions in the stock.

"I am in two minds as to how much volatility will be removed," said Mark Taylor, sales trader at Mirabaud Securities.

"The next few days will tell if longs are still looking for levels to sell and won't feel they're battling with shorts... And, of course, any existing shorts are now limited in their actions."

UK-listed consumer goods firm Reckitt Benckiser also provided a big boost to the market, up 4.6 per cent after reporting higher-than-expected Q4 sales growth, helped by improvements in both its health and home and hygiene businesses.

Chipmaker AMS rose 3.5 per cent after an article by Barrons saying the company is trying to diversify away from the slowing iPhone segment into other consumer areas and industrial applications.

The bank index inched up 0.4 per cent, having risen sharply on Friday after European Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure said a new round of cheap multi-year loans to banks was possible.

That big reaction showed how desperate equity investors are for central banks to do something to help, Ian Williams, strategist at Peel Hunt said.

In other negative moves, Casino shares fell 2.5 per cent after Deutsche Bank cut its rating to "hold" from "buy".

Overall analysts have been increasingly downbeat about earnings potential in Europe and globally as macroeconomic data continued to disappoint.

"Looking at where global risks are, it seems the euro zone is more dangerous than China or the US in terms of what you should be worrying about. It's been where macro surprises have been more dramatic," said Peel Hunt's Williams.

Analysts have slashed their estimates for 2019 earnings growth for MSCI Europe from 9.5 per cent in early November to 6.5 per cent now. 

REUTERS