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European markets close higher amid earnings, US-China trade hopes; Sainsbury shares dive 17%

Key Points
  • The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed up around 0.7 percent during Wednesday deals, with most sectors and major bourses in positive territory.
  • In the U.K., three lawmakers from Britain's ruling Conservative Party announced they had quit to join a new centrist group in Parliament on Wednesday.
  • Market focus is largely attuned to global trade developments, after officials from the U.S. and China launched a new round of negotiations on Tuesday.

European stocks were slightly higher Wednesday afternoon, amid rising hopes the world's two largest economies could soon secure a trade deal to end a protracted dispute.

European Markets: FTSE, GDAXI, FCHI, IBEX

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed provisionally up around 0.7 percent on Wednesday, with most sectors and major bourses in positive territory.

Europe's autos stocks — with their heavy exposure to China — led the gains, up more than 2.3  percent. Officials from the U.S. and China launched a new round of negotiations on Tuesday, with a follow-up session of higher-level talks expected later in the week. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he might extend the March 1 deadline for a deal, saying it was not a "magical date."

Stateside, stocks edged higher after the opening bell, as investors waited for news from the trade talks and clues on monetary policy. The U.S. Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee is expected to release minutes from its January meeting at 2 p.m. ET.

Back in Europe, Ireland's Glanbia surged to the top of the European benchmark during morning trade. The nutrition company reported pre-tax profit rose 16 percent in 2018, adding it expected to deliver growth between 5 percent and 8 percent in 2019. Shares of the group jumped 11.8 percent on the news.

Meanwhile, Britain's Sainsbury's tumbled to the bottom of the index. It comes after the U.K.'s competition regulator said on Wednesday that the supermarket's planned $9.5 billion takeover of Walmart-owned Asda should either be blocked or would require the sale of a significant number of stores. Shares of Sainsbury's tumbled around 17 percent on the news.

Shares of the Swiss bank UBS fell more than 3 percent after a French court found it guilty of illegally soliciting clients in France and laundering the proceeds of tax evasion. The bank was fined 4.5 billion euros ($5.1 billion).

Brexit

In the U.K., three lawmakers from Britain's ruling Conservative Party announced they had quit to join a new centrist group in Parliament on Wednesday. They issued a joint statement saying the government's handling of Brexit had been "disastrous. "

Prime Minister Theresa May is set to visit Brussels to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker later on Wednesday. It comes as May continues with her bid to renegotiate her Brexit deal with the bloc, with less than 38 days to go before the country leaves the European Union.