Europe Markets

European stocks close higher with coronavirus, earnings and oil prices in focus

Key Points
  • Oil prices remain a focal point for investors as prices continue to rise from a dramatic slump earlier this week.
  • Euro zone business activity slumped to record lows in April, highlighting the economic damage of the pandemic.
  • Earnings remained a key driver of market sentiment in Europe, with a slew of big corporates reporting their results.

European stocks closed higher Thursday as the coronavirus pandemic, oil prices and corporate earnings remained in focus for investors.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed 1% higher provisionally, after whipsawing earlier as economic data out of the euro zone showed record deterioration due the coronavirus crisis. Oil and gas stocks soared 3% after oil prices appeared to stabilize.

Oil prices, which are an indicator of economic health and global demand, remain a focal point for investors as prices continue to rise from a dramatic slump earlier this week. There is optimism in the market that producers will continue to cut output.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures for June delivery gained 31% on Thursday to trade at around $18 a barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, traded around 11% higher at $22 per barrel.

The coronavirus pandemic also remains a key concern for investors with around 2.6 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 183,000 deaths. Follow our live updates on the outbreak here.

On Wall Street, stocks opened higher on Thursday as oil prices, corporate earnings and the coronavirus crisis remained in focus. Jobless claim filings continued at a historically unprecedented pace last week with 4.4 million new signups for unemployment insurance, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Business activity data disaster

Euro zone business activity slumped to record lows in April, highlighting the severe economic damage being wrought by the coronavirus pandemic across the bloc. 

The IHS Markit Purchasing Managers' Index, which measures both the services industry and manufacturing, dropped to 13.5 in April, according to preliminary data. In March, the same index had already recorded its biggest ever single monthly drop to 29.7. A contraction in PMI figures — a figure below 50 — indicates a likely fall in economic growth overall.

France's April composite PMI dropped to 11.2 from 28.9 in March, marking the lowest reading since the benchmark began in 1998. Germany suffered a similar fate, plunging from 35.0 in March to 17.1 in April, also a record low.

Earnings in focus

Earnings remain a key driver of market sentiment in Europe, with a slew of big corporates reporting Thursday.

Credit Suisse posted a 75% jump in first-quarter net profit compared to the same period last year, with net income of 1.31 billion Swiss francs. The Swiss lender also set aside 568 million Swiss francs for potential credit losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit Suisse shares were up over 2%.

Renault reported a 19.2% fall in first-quarter revenue but said it was too early to quantify the impact that the coronavirus crisis would have on earnings this year. The French carmaker is expected to update investors on its alliance with Japanese counterpart Nissan at midday. Renault shares climbed 4%.

French electrical distributor Rexel and British housebuilder Taylor Wimpey and Vistry Group both climbed more than 11% to lead the Stoxx 600, while at the other end of the European benchmark, Micro Focus fell by over 5%.