Europe Markets

Europe attempts recovery at close despite weak earnings


European markets eked out gains on Wednesday as investors tried to shake off oil's fluctuations and the slew of disappointing earnings ahead of the release of the U.S. Federal Reserve's next statement.

The pan-European STOXX 600 finished slightly higher, up some 0.3 percent provisionally, with sectors closing mixed to higher.

London's FTSE 100 finished up 1.3 percent, while France's CAC and Germany's DAX trailed behind, closing up 0.5 and 0.6 percent, respectively.

Global markets will be looking to the U.S. and Fed late Wednesday. The Federal Open Market Committee kicked off its two-day meeting Tuesday and is scheduled to release its statement Wednesday afternoon.

No change in rates is expected but investors will be scrutinizing the statement for insight into policymakers' views on the economic environment and the future path of tightening. Investors will be hoping for some comfort from the central bank.

"What matters for equity investors right now is the assurance from the U.S. Federal Reserve department that they are paying attention to the economic conditions, which are not only taking place domestically, but they also need to react to offshore volatility," Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at AvaTrade, said in a note. "If we get this comfort from the Fed, we could see a rally in the equity market around the globe."

Weaker trade in the U.S. impacted European markets, as both regions were weighed down by disappointing quarterly reports and the low oil prices.

Oil, metal prices eye a recovery

In Asia, markets closed mostly higher however China shares remained volatile again. Adding to concerns over China's economic growth and the depreciation of the yuan, shares on the mainland got more bad news on Wednesday after data showed China's industrial profits fell 4.7 percent on-year in December, declining for a seventh month.

Several oil and gas stocks recovered from their sharp morning losses after Brent and U.S. crude staged a recovery late in Europe's session; shaking off the earlier news that U.S. crude stocks had risen by 11.4 million barrels last week to 496.6 million.

Prices were boosted by the EIA's slightly lighter news which reported crude inventories had only risen by 8.4 million barrels in the week through Jan. 22, bringing the total in storage to 494.9 million barrels, lower than the American Petroleum Institute's 496.6 million figure.

U.S. oil last stood 1 percent higher around $31.84, while Brent was around $32.37. Oil and gas stocks closed mixed, with Saipem off more than 11 percent, while BP and Total closed higher.

The majority of Europe's miners recovered following a pick up in oil and a recovery in metal prices with Glencore jumping over 5.5 percent.

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Germany's BASF, the world's largest chemicals company by sales, said 2015 earnings would be lower than expected after it took impairment charges in its oil and gas division resulting from the low oil price. Shares came off session lows, but closed some 1.8 percent down.

On top of BASF, several companies chose to report their latest earnings on Wednesday. Nordea reported underlying profit below expectations in the fourth quarter, while its dividend was less than analysts had expected. Operating profit for the period came in at 1.03 billion euros, down from 1.16 billion a year ago, sending shares to close over 5.5 percent lower.

Royal Bank of Scotland said it would take a 2.5 billion pound ($3.58 billion) hit to its fourth-quarter profits after setting aside more money to deal with ongoing litigation and other issues. Shares in the lender fell as much as 5.3 percent to hit their lowest level since 2012, but pared to close off almost 2 percent.

Martin Gilbert, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management.
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Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis' fourth-quarter earnings missed expectations as the group prepares to overhaul its Alcon division, a task that chief executive Joe Jimenez told CNBC he did not expect to be a "quick fix." Novartis shares finished 3.7 percent lower.

Meanwhile, Swedish mobile network equipment maker Ericsson reported a 68 percent year-on-year rise in net profit in the fourth quarter, helped by a licensing deal it had previously signed with Apple. However, shares closed trade over 6 percent down.

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In other news, Zurich Insurance revealed it had appointed Generali's Mario Greco in a move the Swiss insurer hopes will revive its fortunes and which leaves its Italian rival searching for a worthy successor. Zurich shares ended up 1.5 percent, while Generali slipped 1.3 percent.

Shell shareholders voted in favor of the company's $50 billion takeover of rival firm BG. Shares in Shell closed 2 percent higher despite earlier losses, while BG shares finished up around 3.5 percent .

STMicro finished up 4.4 percent, making it one of Europe's top performers, after it announced a massive restructuring plan that would see 1,400 jobs cut globally.

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