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European shares near record high on earnings boost

By Reuters

By Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) -European stocks edged back towards record-highs on Thursday after a slew of upbeat earnings reports and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s pledge to stick to loose monetary policy.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.5% to 442 points, marginally below its record peak of 443.61.

Consumer goods giant Unilever rose 2.7% as a pick up in home cooking and a strong economic recovery in China drove better-than-expected quarterly sales. The company also announced a share buyback programme of up to 3 billion euros ($3.6 billion).

Finnish telecom network equipment maker Nokia surged 12.5% as growth in sales of network and 5G equipment boosted its quarterly earnings.

European earnings are seen jumping 71.3% in the first quarter, as per Refinitiv IBES data. Almost a third of the STOXX 600 companies have reported so far, and a higher-than-usual 68% have topped profit estimates.

“The majority of the reported firms sound constructive on the outlook for the remainder of the year,” European equity strategists at Barclays wrote in a note, adding that the high expectations, however, have been priced in.

Global stock markets took heart as the U.S. central bank Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday said “it is not time yet” to begin discussing any change in monetary policy with so many workers still left jobless by the pandemic.

Details on U.S. President Joe Biden’s stimulus plans and bumper earnings from Wall Street’s tech giants Apple and Facebook further lifted sentiment.

Among oil majors, UK’s Royal Dutch Shell gained 1.4% after it raised its dividend by 4% following a strong quarter, while France’s Total was up 1.2% after it reported first-quarter earnings close to pre-pandemic levels.

French planemaker Airbus added 2.4% after it posted higher quarterly core earnings.

Among decliners, Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics slipped 0.6% despite advancing its target of $12 billion in annual sales by two years.

Automakers took a hit after U.S. carmaker Ford said a global semiconductor shortage may slash second-quarter production by half.

Investors looked past data that showed German unemployment rose unexpectedly in April and companies put more staff on shorter working hours in subsidized job protection schemes.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Vinay Dwivedi)