Europe finishes on a high note despite escalating trade concerns; Galapagos soars 17%

  • Galapagos shares surged to the top of the European benchmark after positive trial results for a drug designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Shares of the company closed up over 17 percent on the news.
  • European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU is committed to reaching a Brexit deal with the U.K.

European stocks posted solid gains on Wednesday, despite intensifying trade tensions between the world's two largest economies.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed up 0.47 percent, with almost all sectors finishing in positive territory.

The majority of Europe's bourses ended on an upbeat note, with the U.K.'s FTSE 100 rising 0.55 percent, the French CAC 40 jumping 0.92 percent and the German DAX seeing gains of 0.52 percent by the close.

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Looking across Europe's sectors, oil and gas stocks were among the top performers Wednesday, finishing up 1.6 percent as investors continued to monitor rising crude prices and looming sanctions against Iran. The sector was supported by a strong uptick in U.S. WTI, which rose over 2 percent by Europe's close on the back of a bigger-than-expected fall in U.S. inventories.

Retail popped 1.5 percent as a sector amid earnings news. Inditex reported net profit largely in line with expectations and forecast an increase in second-half sales of up to 6 percent. The Spanish fashion group's share price finished up more than 4 percent.

In individual stock news, Galapagos shares surged to the top of the European benchmark, closing up 17.58 percent, following positive trial results for a drug designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Sticking with top performers, Barry Callebaut soared almost 7 percent, after UBS upwardly revised its target price and upgraded the chocolatier's stock to "neutral" from "sell." Hexpol also rose over 4.5 percent following news it is poised to buy U.S. firm Kirkhill Rubber.

SSE slumped towards the bottom of the index, closing down over 8 percent, after the company warned profits in the first six months of the year would halve compared to last year. Bucher, however, fell further, down 8.4 percent after Berenberg cut its rating to "sell" from "hold".

Trade, Brexit news rattles on

On Wall Street, stocks were mostly positive around Europe's close, with the Dow jumping into the triple digits. Markets got a rise following news surrounding trade talks.

Citing sources, Dow Jones reported the U.S. is proposing a new round of talks with China over the coming weeks. The report says the discussions are aimed at getting bilateral economic negotiations back on track.

This comes after China requested permission from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to sanction the United States. President Donald Trump announced last week that Washington could impose further trade tariffs against Beijing.

Back in Europe, investors were also tracking Brexit news. Pro-Brexit members of the ruling Conservative Party called for cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic on Wednesday. The plea is intended to avoid the creation of a hard border between the two countries.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his last State of the Union speech Wednesday that the European Union stands ready to work "day and night" to find an agreement with the U.K. over Brexit.

Elsewhere, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank are reportedly increasingly open to the prospect of merging. According to the German magazine De Spiegel, Commerzbank is ready to merge now, whereas Deutsche is unlikely to look for a merger in the next 18 months.