European stocks held steady on Wednesday as investors favoured utilities and healthcare shares over economically sensitive sectors on rising concerns over a spike in global Covid-19 cases.
Market participants also held back as they awaited the minutes of the US Federal Reserve’s July policy meeting.
The Iseq climbed 0.6 per cent, with the Irish index led by gains for Ryanair. The airline rose 2.85 per cent to €16.25 as rising travel stocks kept European equities afloat.
It was also a good session for packaging group Smurfit Kappa, which added 1 per cent to €49.11. The banks were in the green, with AIB up 1.1 per cent at €2.39 and Bank of Ireland finishing at €5.14, up 1.4 per cent.
Building materials group CRH nudged up 0.1 per cent to €44.20.
Insulation maker Kingspan fell 0.75 per cent to €95.72 and Paddy Power owner Flutter Entertainment slipped 0.6 per cent to €162.45, but neither stock attracted high trading volumes during the session.
UK shares initially found some relief after data showed British inflation fell to the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target last month in an unexpectedly sharp slowdown. The UK’s blue-chip Ftse 100 slipped 0.2 per cent but the Ftse 250 mid-cap index inched up 0.6 per cent.
BHP Group weighed the most on the Ftse 100, tumbling 5.9 per cent as investors fretted over the miner's sale of its petroleum arm.
Persimmon, Britain's second-biggest home builder, rose 1.5 per cent after it said its current forward sales were up about 9 per cent from pre-pandemic levels.
British insurer M&G PLC rose 0.6 per cent after it said it would buy financial advice provider Sandringham Financial Partners.
Aer Lingus owner International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) joined in the rally for travel stocks, closing 2.4 per cent higher.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 index inched up just 0.1 per cent, with automotive makers and mining stocks the biggest drags.
Sectors considered more stable during times of economic uncertainty, such as healthcare and utilities, rose, while travel and leisure stocks clawed back some losses from earlier this week.
France’s Cac 40 fell 0.7 per cent, while the German Dax rose 0.3 per cent.
Among individual stocks, Danish brewer Carlsberg rose 2.3 per cent after it lifted its full-year earnings outlook and said beer volumes in key markets China and Russia had risen to "well above" pre-pandemic levels.
Swiss medical device maker Alcon jumped 13.5 per cent after it raised its full-year earnings forecast, while online pharmacy chain Zur Rose fell 5.6 per cent after disappointing first-half results.
A much stronger than expected earnings season and improving economic data in Europe pushed the benchmark Stoxx 600 to its longest winning streak in more than decade last week.
However, pandemic-related worries and uncertainty around central bank actions stalled gains.
The S&P 500 and the Dow edged lower in choppy trading on Wednesday as investors refrained from making big bets ahead of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting and sought clues on when the central bank might start winding down its economic support.
Netflix, Microsoft, Google owner Alphabet and Tesla, which led Wall Street's rally from pandemic lows last year, helped the market offset some losses.
Banking stocks rose 0.2 per cent, rebounding from a 3.3 per cent fall in the last three sessions. The S&P 500 consumer discretionary sector added 0.9 per cent, boosted by Lowe's Companies, which jumped 10.3 per cent after it forecast full-year sales above estimates on higher spending from builders and handymen getting back to housing projects.
Earnings reports from online brokerage Robinhood Markets, chip maker Nvidia, network gear maker Cisco Systems, lingerie brand Victoria's Secret & Co and Bath & Body Works were all due after market close.