European shares edge lower despite strong earnings from Unilever and Kering

Smurfit Kappa advances in Dublin, while Disney gains on Wall Street

European shares ended marginally lower on Thursday, as losses in healthcare heavyweights offset gains spurred by strong corporate updates from consumer staples stocks such as Unilever and luxury giant Kering.

Meanwhile, two European Central Bank (ECB) policymakers said the central bank still needs more evidence that inflation is heading back to its 2 per cent target before it can cut interest rates, even if there is growing confidence that price pressures are easing.


The Iseq index rose 1.6 per cent as the Dublin market was lifted by a strong gain for Smurfit Kappa. The packaging group added 5.7 per cent to €36.80 on a day when its peer Mondi said it was considering a bid for rival DS Smith.

The gain came on top of a 3.4 per cent rise in the previous day’s session as Smurfit signalled its planned acquisition of US rival WestRock.


Ryanair also advanced, rising 1.7 per cent to €3.31, while insulation-maker Kingspan closed 2.2 per cent higher at €78.60.


Early gains in the UK’s blue-chip stock index fizzled out on Thursday after drugmaker AstraZeneca fell more than 6 per cent after disappointing earnings and outweighed a jump in the shares of British American Tobacco and Unilever.

AstraZeneca shares closed at their lowest level since October 2022 after a step-up in R&D and price reductions for some medicines in emerging markets led its fourth-quarter profit to disappoint analyst expectations.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 slipped 0.4 per cent. Limiting losses in the index, British American Tobacco advanced 7.1 per cent after it said it was “actively working” to sell some of its shareholding in India’s ITC.

Unilever rose 3.2 per cent after the Dove soap-maker reported a rise in fourth-quarter sales and launched a €1.5-billion share buyback programme.

The mid-cap FTSE 250 closed flat, shedding its morning gains after shares of PZ Cussons came under pressure for a second day.

DS Smith jumped 9.8 per cent after packaging company Mondi said it was in the early stages of considering a possible all-share bid for its smaller rival. Mondi slid 3.3 per cent.


The pan-European Stoxx 600 index closed 0.1 per cent lower after rising as much 0.3 per cent earlier in the session.

French luxury group Kering added 4.9 per cent after it posted fourth-quarter sales in line with estimates. Other luxury heavyweights such as LVMH, Hermes and Richemont rose between 1.8 per cent and 3.3 per cent.

Maersk fell 14.7 per cent after the shipping giant said container shipping overcapacity would hit profits more than expected this year. Its peer Hapag Lloyd’s shares slumped 9.2 per cent.

Oil and gas shares also took a hit from the 11.9 per cent drop in Finnish biofuels producer Neste after it posted fourth-quarter operating profit below expectations and forecast a lower 2024 renewable products sales margin than it recorded in 2023.

Dutch payments company Adyen soared 21.3 per cent after it beat 2023 earnings expectations.


The benchmark S&P 500 index was muted on Thursday, lingering near the 5,000-point mark, as investors sized up major corporate earnings reports, a roughly in-line jobs report and remarks from policymakers on interest rate cuts.

Walt Disney gained 11.9 per cent after the media giant hit back at activist investors with a market-beating profit, a gaming investment and plans to launch an ESPN streaming service in 2025. The company also announced a $3 billion share repurchase plan and a 50 per cent increase in dividend.

PayPal dropped 11.4 per cent after a forecast of flat growth in adjusted profit for the current year. Ralph Lauren gained 14.7 per cent after its third-quarter revenue beat estimates, while clothing maker Under Armour climbed 1.3 per cent after raising its annual profit forecast.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics