Europe Markets

Europe closes higher ahead of UK Brexit vote


European equities closed in positive territory on Wednesday, as investors prepared for the following day when the U.K. votes in its referendum on the European Union.

The pan-European STOXX 600 ended trade up 0.4 percent, despite coming under pressure earlier on in the session.

Looking at major European bourses, the FTSE 100 jumped 0.6 percent at the close, while France's CAC and Germany's DAX ended 0.3 and 0.55 percent higher.

At the close, the leave campaign had established a one-point lead (45 percent) over the remain camp (44 percent), according to Opinium's latest poll. Following the poll, when markets were settling after the close, sterling fell sharply against the dollar, while bourses also pared sharp gains. At the close, the STOXX 600 closed provisionally up 0.9 percent, before settling at 0.4 percent.

European stocks have remained on edge this week, as the U.K.'s referendum on its EU membership draws closer. Broadly, opinion polls show that support for the remain and leave camps is neck-and-neck, making the result too close to call and that could stoke further volatility in financial markets.

"Recent market moves have been pricing in a remain vote but, with opinion polls indicating that the vote is too close to call, the markets are likely to be extremely volatile and, with many investors on the sidelines, the lack of liquidity will exaggerate the moves," Mic Mills, head of client services at Capital Index, said in a Wednesday note.

Global investors are also digesting comments made by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Tuesday and Wednesday. On the second day of her semiannual congressional testimony, Yellen said she was "very hopeful" that the U.S. would see a pickup in growth, and that the central bank would keep an eye on this, to help them assess the economy. On Tuesday, Yellen also weighed in on the referendum debate, saying that a U.K. vote to leave could have significant economic repercussions.

Oil comes under pressure

Oil prices came under pressure during Europe's afternoon session, with U.S. crude and Brent slipping to $50 a barrel or under at the close, after data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed U.S. crude stockpiles had fallen 917,000 barrels in the previous week.

In the oil and gas space, Norway's Statoil jumped 2 percent after chief executive Eldar Saetre told the Wall Street Journal that big efficiency gains were helping the oil company lower the cost of its projects globally. Meanwhile Petrofac slipped 1.5 percent, after Exane BNP Paribas cut its target price on the stock.

Elsewhere in the commodity space, metal prices were broadly higher during the session as fears over Brexit waned. This price tick-up helped prop up most stocks in basic resources, including Glencore, Anglo American and BHP Billiton. ArcelorMittal however closed lower, despite Citigroup raising its price target for the stock.

Banks in focus; VW scandal continues

Banks continue to remain in focus ahead of the U.K.'s referendum vote. Several London-listed banks posted solid gains, including HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland. Standard Chartered was one of the sector's top performers, jumping over 2 percent.

Shares of Swiss bank Julius Baer finished up 1.4 percent, after Citigroup raised its price target and rating on the stock.

In individual stock news, H&M reported a sharp 17 percent decline in pretax profit year-on-year in the second quarter hit by a strong dollar and weak sales growth. Shares in the Swedish retailer however closed above 1 percent.

Spain's Merlin Properties popped close to 4 percent, making it one of Europe's best performers, after the firm agreed to a merger with Metrovacesa.

On Wednesday, Volkswagen's management board member Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, told shareholders that the automaker had not violated disclosure rules, as regulators looked into whether the firm had disclosed emissions test cheating in a timely manner; Reuters reported. Shares in the firm reversed earlier gains to close lower.

And Air France-KLM shares reacted positively to the news that the airline's pilots have canceled a planned four-day strike.

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