World News

European stocks scrape out gains as surging oil prices offset virus woes

By Ambar Warrick and Sagarika Jaisinghani

(Reuters) – A late-session rally in the energy sector helped European stocks end slightly higher on Thursday, with sentiment remaining fragile after a sharp rise in U.S. unemployment claims showed further evidence of the coronavirus’ economic impact.

The pan-European STOXX 600 <.STOXX> closed a volatile session 0.4% higher, recovering from a sink into negative territory.

The energy sector <.SXEP> was the biggest boost to the benchmark, tracking a surge in crude prices on reports that U.S. President Donald Trump expects Russian President Putin and the Saudi Crown Prince to announce an oil production cut. [O/R]

A price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, coupled with expectations of lower demand, had sent oil prices plummeting last month, which in turn pushed European energy stocks to 24-year lows.

The sector jumped more than 5% on the day, with heavyweights Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L>, Total SA <TOTF.PA> and BP <BP.L> adding between 3% and 9%.

Swedish oil and gas explorer Lundin Energy AB <LUPE.ST> topped the STOXX 600, jumping around 15%.

Still, the U.S. unemployment figures pointed to deep economic ructions from the coronavirus outbreak, fanning concerns over a global recession after data on Wednesday showed factory activity crashing in the Euro zone.

“With most euro zone countries in partial or full lockdown, GDP contraction this year is likely to rival the Great Recession,” Peter Vanden Houte of ING wrote in a note.

“While the sentiment indicators for March were bad, they probably can be thrown in the bin immediately. After four months of increases, economic sentiment nosedived in March,” he added.

European travel and leisure stocks <.SXTP> were the worst performers for the day, with cruise operator Carnival PLC <CCL.L> plunging more than 20% as it readied a bumper capital raise to help tide it through severe curbs on its business.

Carnival bottomed out the STOXX 600 for a second straight session.

Hays <HAYS.L>, one of the world’s biggest recruiters, slumped 13% after announcing an emergency 200 million pound ($248.36 million) issue of shares on Thursday.

Technology shares <.SX8P> also dropped, with French software firm Dassault Systemes <DAST.PA> shedding more than 5% after it warned of lower first-quarter revenue.

In Europe, countries including Germany, Spain and Italy have extended lockdowns to try to halt the spread of COVID-19, and analysts expect another earnings recession this year with several firms withdrawing forecasts ahead of the reporting season.

(Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

tagreuters.com2020binary_LYNXMPEG310GP-BASEIMAGE