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European Shares Flat as Defensives Offset Upbeat Earnings

(Reuters) - European shares struggled to maintain early gains on Wednesday, as a slide in defensive stocks countered upbeat forecasts from German automakers and sensor specialist AMS as well as a bounce in oil prices.

The pan-European STOXX 600 rose as much as 0.3% but turned flat as healthcare, technology and personal & household goods - sectors that have held steady in the wake of the health crisis - dropped between 0.3% and 1.4%.

London equities, however, outperformed their continental peers as lenders Barclays and Standard Chartered rose about 4% even as they set aside billions more to cover potential loan losses due to the pandemic.

Shares in BP, Total and Royal Dutch Sell RDSA.AS advanced between 1.9% and 3.5% as crude prices climbed on the back of a lower-than-expected rise in U.S. stockpiles.

European shares have recouped nearly half of their losses since the February rout as many countries move to restart their economies following weeks-long lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

With global economic activity nearly halted in April, analysts are, however, predicting a sharper slump in second-quarter earnings. Latest data from Refinitiv pointed to a 40.4% decline in profits during the period for companies listed on the STOXX 600 versus 37% a week ago.

“We saw a bear market rally and this might come to an end soon,” said Christian Stocker, an equity strategist at Unicredit.

Stocker added it might be too early to step back into cyclical sectors. “I want to see some light at the end of tunnel - all the hopes for easing of lockdown should come to benefit,” he said.

All eyes will be on first-quarter GDP figures for the United States and the release of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s statement later in the day. Expectations are also high for more stimulus from the European Central Bank, which is due to meet on Thursday.

Sensor specialist AMS jumped 17.3% to the top of STOXX 600 as it expects the impact from the coronavirus in the second quarter to be limited.

Automakers .SXAP were buoyed after German carmaker Daimler forecast operating profit at its Mercedes-Benz Cars & Vans division to be above the prior-year level and rival Volkswagen said it expected to be profitable on a full-year basis.

Shares in Finnish flag carrier Finnair tumbled nearly 14% as it planned to raise 500 million euros ($543 million) through stock offering after reporting deepening first-quarter losses.

Italian stocks rose 0.6%, shrugging of rating agency Fitch downgrading the country's credit rating to "BBB-minus" on Tuesday, just one notch above junk.

Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Sriraj Kalluvila

Source: Reuters

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