Retail stocks surged after strong results from Zara-owner Inditex on Wednesday, but it was a mixed session for the wider European market, with Britain’s exporter-heavy FTSE 100 hit by a stronger pound.
Investors were waiting to hear from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is expected to wrap up its latest policy meeting with somewhat rosier economic forecasts but a renewed pledge to keep interest rates low for as long as the U.S. needs to recover from a pandemic-induced recession.
The policy announcement is due at 1800 GMT, and Fed Chair Jerome Powell is due to hold a virtual news briefing half an hour later.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index closed up 0.6%, gaining for the fourth straight session, while Britain's main FTSE 100 fell 0.4% and the euro zone's blue-chip index gained 0.2%.
“Whatever the Fed says, the reality is that there is more monetary stimulus coming anyway,” said Edmund Shing, global head of equity derivative strategy at BNP Paribas. “It doesn’t change that longer-term narrative for equities which I think is the real driver.”
Spain's Inditex was a star performer after it said current trade showed a progressive return to normality, with online sales growing sharply and store sales recovering. Its shares jumped 8.1%, while the broader retail sector rose 1.3%.
Madrid-listed stocks jumped 1%, also getting a boost from news that Caixabank and Bankia are set to approve a deal on Thursday that will create Spain's biggest domestic lender. The banks' shares rose 1.3% and 4.3%, respectively.
Despite a subdued session in UK markets, shares in e-commerce firm The Hut Group surged 25% in the first major British initial public offering in seven years.
Signs of compromise emerged on the Brexit front, with Reuters reporting that Britain offered tentative concessions on fisheries in trade talks with the European Union last week, just as London was threatening to breach the terms of its divorce deal with the bloc.
German logistics group Deutsche Post AG rose 1.9% and Britain's Royal Mail gained 5.3% after strong earnings from U.S. delivery firm FedEx Corp.
Sweden's Handelsbanken rose 2.4% after revealing plans to close almost half of its branches and cut about 1,000 jobs over the next two years.
Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; editing by Anil D’Silva and Mark Potter