European shares inch higher on earnings boost; Maersk drops
By Shristi Achar A
(Reuters) -European shares edged higher on Thursday, propped up by strong performances from consumer staples stocks including Unilever, while losses in shipping giant Maersk and drugmaker AstraZeneca following results kept gains in check.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.3%, as of 0939 GMT.
The personal and household goods index led advances among sectors, lifted by a 3% jump in Unilever after the Dove soap maker launched a 1.5-billion-euro share buyback programme and posted a rise in fourth-quarter sales.
“Cost inflation is easing, meaning less needs to be passed on to consumers who were starting to trade away from Unilever’s higher-priced products,” Matt Britzman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said.
Adding to the index’s gains, British American Tobacco rose 6.3% after the tobacco giant trounced full-year profit estimates.
Limiting gains on the benchmark STOXX 600, heavyweight healthcare stocks dropped 0.3%, dragged by a 2.4% fall in AstraZeneca after the British drugmaker missed quarterly profit estimates.
Maersk was also a massive drag, down 13.5%, after the shipping giant missed fourth-quarter profit expectations and flagged its 2024 earnings will come below last year’s levels amid an oversupply of container vessels.
Peer Hapag Lloyd’s shares slumped 8.5%.
Oil and gas shares also took a hit from the 12.2% drop in Neste after the Finnish biofuels producer forecast weaker-than-expected 2024 margins for its renewable products segment.
Neste weighed on the OMX Helsinki all-share index, which was down 0.7%.
Investors have been scouring quarterly results in the region, as well as the United States, to assess company performances in the face of high interest rates, with LSEG data showing fourth-quarter earnings estimated to decrease 7.6% for STOXX 600 firms year-on-year.
Adyen soared 16.4% to the top of the benchmark index after the Dutch payments company beat 2023 earnings expectations, helped by its digital business and stricter cost control.
Kering added 3.6% after the French luxury group posted fourth-quarter sales in line with estimates, with analysts pointing to “no major negative surprises” in its results.
Meanwhile, markets will await comments from European Central Bank board members, including ECB chief economist Philip Lane later in the day.
(Reporting by Shristi Achar A in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Shounak Dasgupta)