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European stocks end flat as utility losses outweigh travel, bank gains

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: The German share price index (DAX) board is seen at the end of a trading day at the German stock exchange (Deutsche Boerse) in Frankfurt

By Ambar Warrick and Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) - European stocks ended unchanged on Wednesday as losses in Italian utilities outweighed gains in travel and bank stocks, while global markets were range-bound ahead of a policy update from the U.S. Federal Reserve this week.

The region-wide STOXX 600 index closed largely unchanged at 471.84 points after a record close on Wall Street. The European benchmark itself was just less than 1 percent away from its peak.

Travel and leisure stocks gained 1.8% to hit their highest level in almost two weeks, while banks rose 1.8%.

Utilities were the worst performing sector, falling 0.8% with major Italian utilities Terna, Snam and Italgas leading losses after brokerage RBC turned more negative on its expectations of future returns.

German stocks fell 0.3%.

Business morale fell for the second month running in August as companies took a dimmer view about the coming months due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and supply bottlenecks, a survey from the Ifo institute showed.

Earlier this week, IHS Markit's survey showed the pace of euro zone business growth dipped from July's two-decade-high.

"Equity markets (outside China) have not yet seen the usual wobble associated with a PMI roll-over, so could be vulnerable," Robert Buckland at Citi's global strategy team said.

"Nevertheless, past experience suggests that investors should buy any dip as long as another global recession is not imminent. We don't think it is."

(For graphic on Ifo in August - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/zjpqkkaqopx/Pasted%20image%201629879732088.png)

A Reuters poll of 18 strategists predicted strong earnings will keep European stocks around current record levels for the rest of 2021, while worries related to U.S. monetary policy tightening, the German election and a Chinese regulatory crackdown will cap gains.

Investors are watching German election updates. An opinion poll released on Tuesday showed the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) pulling ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives for the first time in 15 years, with a month before the vote.

Among stocks, Swedish radiation therapy equipment maker Elekta slid 7.8% and was the worst performer on the STOXX 600, after it flagged higher costs.

Deutsche Bank's recommendations spurred moves among retail stocks, with Zara-owner Inditex and H&M slipping over 1% after the brokerage rated them as "sell", while Adidas and Puma rose 1.5% after an upgrade to "buy".

Marks and Spencer Group was among the best performers on the STOXX 600, rising 5.1% after Deutsche Bank rated the apparel retailer as "buy".

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

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