- The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended the session up 0.5%, with basic resources shares surging 2.8% to lead the gains as most sectors and major bourses closed in positive territory.
- Corporate earnings remain a key driver of individual share price action, with Danone, Hermes, Renault and Allianz all reporting their results.
- Sterling reached $1.40 against the U.S. dollar for the first time since April 2018 on Friday morning.
LONDON — European markets closed higher Friday as investors reacted to a fresh batch of corporate earnings and economic data, as well as comments from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calling for fiscal stimulus.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended the session up 0.5%, with basic resources shares surging 2.8% to lead the gains as most sectors and major bourses closed in positive territory.
Yellen told CNBC on Thursday that a large stimulus package is still necessary to get the economy firing on all cylinders again. U.S. stocks got a boost from her comments, with all the major indexes climbing.
Investors have been rattled this week by rising U.S. Treasury yields, and concerns about higher inflation caused a recent rally in global markets to seemingly fizzle out.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was back above 1.3% early on Friday morning. Yields tend to rise with inflation expectations as bond investors start to believe central banks will take their foot off the gas and reduce their asset purchases.
Higher yields can also mean more debt servicing for major firms, which tends to knock stock markets as traders reassess the environment for investing.
Back in Europe, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a virtual meeting of leaders of the G-7 major economies on Friday, and is expected to outline an ambition to cut the time to develop new vaccines by two-thirds to 100 days.
Meanwhile, Germany's regulator on Thursday declared that the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine was "highly effective" and said negative side-effects are short-lived.
Investors are also reacting to a slew of economic data, most notably February's closely-watched Markit flash PMI (purchasing managers' index) readings out of France, Germany and the euro zone.
The euro zone flash composite PMI, combining manufacturing and services activity, climbed to 48.1 in February from 47.8 in January. However, any reading below 50 indicates a contraction in business activity.
Germany's composite PMI reading came in at 51.3, up from 50.8 in January, with anything above 50 representing an expansion. A surge in manufacturing activity offset a contraction in services.
French activity weakened to 45.2, down from 47.7 in January, as lockdown measures hit the country's dominant services sector.
In other news, Sterling reached $1.40 against the U.S. dollar for the first time since April 2018 on Friday morning. The dollar has been in decline on the back of a weak U.S. jobs report Thursday, while the pound is reacting positively to the U.K.'s uniquely successful Covid-19 vaccination rollout.
Earnings in focus
Corporate earnings will remain a key driver of individual share price action Friday, with Danone, Hermes International, Renault, Allianz and Swiss Re among the blue chip companies reporting before the bell.
Allianz posted a 14% decline in full-year net profit as business claims spiked due to lockdowns and demand for car and travel insurance dwindled. The German insurer said it sees operating profit rising in 2021, leading shares to climb slightly by the close.
Renault reported a record annual loss of 8 billion euros ($9.7 billion) in 2020, sending shares 4.4% lower, toward the bottom of the Stoxx 600.
The most upbeat earnings report came from Hermes International, beating expectations on the back of 16% sales growth in the fourth quarter, sending the Birkin bag maker's shares 3.1% higher.
At the top of the European blue chip index, Swedish cloud computing firm Sinch gained 8.5% after Nordea Bank raised the stock's target price and rated it as a "buy." Sinch announced a $1.14 billion acquisition of U.S. communications company Inteliquent on Thursday.
Leonardo shares also jumped 10% to the top of the Stoxx 600 after Italian newspaper reports that the company could raise up to 2.1 billion euros from listing its U.S. unit DRS on the New York Stock Exchange. Italian luxury fashion brand Moncler climbed 5.4% after its full-year earnings report.
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