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Europe Shares Up, Investors Play Safe with Defensive Stocks

  • Healthcare stocks rise 1.4% to a record
  • Energy, basic materials stocks decline
  • French elections too close to call - poll
  • Shell drops, raises Russia exit write down to $5 billion

April 7 (Reuters) - European shares on Thursday recovered from a selloff, as healthcare stocks surged to a record high even though risks from a hawkish Federal Reserve and Washington's new sanctions on Russia kept investors on edge.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.3% after losing 1.5% in their worst session in a month on Wednesday. Sectors more resilient to economic downturn led the gains, with healthcare jumping 1.4%.

But a decline in basic material and oil stocks saw London's commodity-heavy FTSE 100 index underperform regional peers.

Shell dropped 1.8% after saying it would write down up to $5 billion in the first quarter as a result of its decision to exit Russia, higher than previously disclosed. 

European shares fared better that stocks markets in Asia and the United States, which weakened after minutes of the Fed's March meeting showed that officials "generally agreed" to cut up to $95 billion a month from the central bank's asset holdings to fight surging inflation. 

"That is still a concern...the fact that the era of cheap money is coming to an end," said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and market analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

"Obviously, there are ongoing concerns about the situation in Ukraine and how that could dent economic growth in the eurozone going forward with higher inflation, commodity costs and concerns about energy supply," Streeter said.

Investors now await the European Central Bank's (ECB) minutes due later in the day. The ECB had turned off its money taps, paving the way for an increase in interest rates in its March meeting. 

"There will be an expectation that there will not be such an aggressive stance (from the ECB) given how much more sensitive the eurozone economy is to what's happening in Ukraine."

The STOXX 600 index is on course to end lower for the week as geopolitics and central bank hawkishness dent sentiment. The United States targeted Russian banks and elites with a new round of sanctions, including banning Americans from investing in Russia.

French stocks rose 0.3% after losing more than 3% in the last two sessions as the presidential race gets too close to call, a poll showed, ahead of the first round on April 10. President Emmanuel Macron is still ahead and seen as the most likely winner.

Italy's Atlantia surged 9.5% after Global Infrastructure Partners and Brookfield Infrastructure pitched a possible takeover last week, heating up the race for the road and airport operator. 

Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Arun Koyyur

Source: Reuters

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