European shares closed higher on Wednesday, following a rebound led by the auto sector, after the heavy selling seen at the start of the week.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index provisionally closed higher by 0.3 percent at 1,337.39 points. The European index had fallen to its lowest level in a week in the previous session.
The autos sector was one of the standout gainers, helped along by a rally in Porsche and Volkswagen stocks, which rose 4.2 and 3.7 percent respectively. The above carmakers, whose stocks are separately listed even though they are part of the same group, were raised to an "outperform" rating by Bernstein.
Nonetheless, global investors continued to weigh up the macroeconomic picture ahead of the start of first-quarter earnings season. Expectations for profit growth are low and valuations — in both the U.S. and Europe — are being questioned.
Still, U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday, extending gains into a second session, after Alcoa's quarterly profit topped expectations, and investors awaited minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest policy session.
The minutes will be released after European markets close at 7:00 p.m. London time, and could reveal further details about Fed members' opinions.This comes after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a press briefing last month that the central bank could start raising short-term interest rates six months after ending its bond-buying program.
Renewed tensions in Ukraine has not helped sentiment this week. Around 70 people have been arrested in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv this week, after pro-Russian protesters stormed government buildings. This followed demonstrations, adding to fears of further Russian intervention.
"The overall narrative of this week continues to be one of concern about valuations that are starting to look a little pricey. This combined with the return of a little uncertainty about how events in Ukraine might continue to unfold has seen some investor's cash out of some of their more exposed positions," Michael Hewson of CMC Markets said in a research note.
On the data front, Germany trade activity came in weaker-than-expected on Wednesday. Official data showed that in February, exports dipped 1.3 percent on the month. This was against an dip of 0.5 percent forecast by economists in a Reuters poll.
In stocks news, shares of Danish food ingredients producer Chr Hansen closed higher by around 7.9 percent after it reported a rise in quarterly net profit.
Finnish utility firm Fortum announced it would be selling its Norwegian electricity distributor Hafslund; shares in the company closed around 7.1 percent lower.
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