European markets duck below record highs

Cautious optimism among investors over the impact of vaccine rollouts

European stocks were little changed and closed just short of record highs on Wednesday, with healthcare shares among top decliners, while optimism over speedy vaccination drives and a weaker pound helped UK equities outperform. The Iseq index in Dublin slipped by a little over 0.25 per cent.


Paddy Power-owner Flutter saw its shares slump after Rupert Murdoch's Fox media group filed an arbitration claim against it regarding the value of its stake in sports betting platform FanDuel. Flutter finished down almost 2.5 per cent at €180.05.

Building materials giant CRH rose almost 1.3 per cent to close the session at €40.27, as the company continues to be favoured by investors following details of US president Joe Biden's proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which includes heavy spending on roads.

Ryanair fell by almost 0.4 per cent to €16.89. It told investors that net losses for 2021 are now expected to be between €800 million and €850 million, down from previous guidance of between €850 million and €950 million. However, it also blamed the slow rollout in the EU for delays in the recovery of passenger numbers.


Hotel operator Dalata Group rose more than 1.3 per cent to €4.56, as the Government hinted at a possible further relaxation of Covid restrictions next month.


London’s markets continued their soaring start to the week with the FTSE 250 hitting a record high as further vaccine fears pressed on the pound.

Currency traders were shaken after the UK's medical advisory body, the MHRA, said under-30s will be offered an alternative to the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine due to links with rare blood clots. The slump in the currency helped lift UK multinational firms higher, with the FTSE 100 now just short of a new 12-month high.

Royal Dutch Shell saw its shares edge upwards after the oil giant said it expects its adjusted earning to be positive on the back of recent energy price rises. However, it also told investors it expects the recent Texas snowstorm will have an adverse impact of up to $200 million (€168m) on its adjusted earnings in the first three months of the financial year. It closed 14.8p higher at 1,440.4p.

Recent UK market debutant Deliveroo Holdings rose 2.1 per cent to 285.7549 pence in its first day of unrestricted trading when retailers were allowed to trade. It has shed almost 28per cent since last week when it priced its initial public offering at 390 pence.


The pan-European STOXX 600 index edged 0.1 per cent lower, trading just below the record closing peak of 435.26 points from Tuesday. Healthcare stocks fell 0.8 per cent, leading sectoral declines. The German Dax decreased 0.24 per cent and the French Cac moved 0.01 per cent lower.

French M&A was in focus, with power group EDF jumping 10.5 per cent after sources told Reuters the government expects to spend around €10 billion to buy out minority shareholders as part of a proposed restructuring of the company.

Amundi rose 2.9 per cent after Societe Generale said it was in exclusive talks to sell most of asset manager Lyxor to Amundi for €825 million.


Wall Street’s main indexes dipped in choppy trading as investors cautiously awaited minutes from the Federal Reserve’s meeting last month that could offer clues on the central bank’s views on inflation and an economic recovery.

The industrials, materials and healthcare sectors weighed the most on the S&P 500. The S&P 500 still hovered near a record, with technology companies gaining.

Carnival Corp climbed after saying bookings are accelerating, which reflects pent-up demand for cruising even as the industry remains on hold.

Prison operator GEO Group fell about 19per cent after suspending quarterly dividend payments.

US treasuries rose.

– Additional reporting: Reuters/PA/Bloomberg

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times