May 6 (Reuters) - European stocks inched higher on Thursday, hovering near record levels, as strong earnings reports from AB Inbev and several eurozone banks added to an upbeat mood sparked by solid economic data this week.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.1% to 422 points, coming close below its all-time high of 433.61 points. Food and beverage, utilities and chemical stocks led the gains.
Anheuser-Busch InBev jumped 5.2% after it reported first-quarter earnings ahead of expectations and said North America boss Michel Doukeris will replace Carlos Brito as chief executive officer.
Italy’s No.2 bank UniCredit gained 4.7% and French lender Societe Generale rose 4.0% after reporting higher-than-expected quarterly earnings.
The wider euro zone banking sector climbed 0.4% to hit a fresh 14-month high.
Europe’s largest car maker Volkswagen inched up 0.1% as it raised its operating margin target for 2021.
More than half of STOXX 600 companies have reported earnings so far and 73% of those have topped profit expectations, as per Refinitiv IBES data. Normally, 51% beat estimates.
While European healthcare stocks were largely in-line with the broader market, Frankfurt-listed shares of U.S. drugmakers Novavax and Moderna slumped close to 10% after U.S. President Joe Biden threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.
It was a busy day for UK markets, with the blue-chip FTSE 100 rising 0.2% ahead of Bank of England’s monetary policy decision and with local and regional elections underway.
The central bank is expected to say that Britain’s economy is heading for a much stronger recovery this year than it previously expected and it might start to slow its pandemic emergency support.
“Much like in the United States, the increasing strength of the UK economy’s rebound will cause the central bank to mull over tapering its current stimulus support,” Connor Campbell, a market analyst at SpreadEX wrote in a note.
“Any hawkish signals could well send the FTSE back below 7,000.”
British fashion retailer Next gained 3.0% after raising its full-year profit guidance, while Superdry rallied 12.0% on returning to growth in its fourth quarter, helped by online and wholesale.
Adding to a string of upbeat data this week, strong domestic demand for consumer goods propelled a bigger-than-expected jump in German industrial orders in March, while Britain’s services sector recorded its fastest growth in more than seven years last month.
Telecom Italia slid 5.3% after a report suggesting the government is set to drop a plan to create a single broadband network.
Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Uttaresh.V