Europe close: Stocks advance slightly despite concerns over new Covid-19 strains
European stocks were mostly higher at the start of the week with investors cheers by positive China GDP data, which helped to offset worries about the new Covid-19 strains, although there appeared to be confidence that vaccination rollout programmes would help to bring the pandemic to heel by the spring.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index added 0.20% to 408.68, led by gains for Auto&Parts and Banks' shares.
In parallel, France's CAC 40 0.44% higher at 13,848.35 and the FTSE Mibtel advanced 0.53% to 22,498.89.
US markets remained closed in observance of the Martin Luther King public holiday leaving markets a bit bereft of leadership.
"European markets have continued on in their quiet way today, marking time without the US and feeling oddly bereft after bank earnings on Friday heralded the start of reporting season," said IG chief market analyst Chris Beauchamp.
"Overall stock markets have failed to take much heart from the Chinese GDP data overnight, and instead a cautious atmosphere has prevailed in London and on other bourses."
Carrefour shares fell 7% after announcing at the weekend that talks with Couche-Tard had been terminated and the two sides would instead work on partnership opportunities. The planned deal went under after French government opposition, citing a threat to the country's "food sovereignty".
Despite the confidence generated by vaccines, investors were also concerned about tighter lockdown curbs in Europe's major economies with reports that Germany was considering a night curfew to stem the rising number of Covid-19 cases. France last week imposed a similar measure, while Britain closed all travel corridors into the country starting at 4am on Monday with strict testing and quarantine restrictions on anyone entering the country.
Airlines were in the red with easyJet slipping as the emergence of multiple highly contagious strains of the coronavirus hit hopes of an economic recovery in the coming months.
"The travel sector is now wholly reliant upon vaccination efforts, with the UK government decision to close all travel corridors likely to remain in place until the government has protected a sufficient proportion of the UK population. While the 2020 summer was a write-off for airlines, the hope is that the vaccination programme will provide a timely boost that will finally bring a wave of booking," IG's analyst Josh Mahony said.
In China meanwhile, the government published data showing an annual growth rate of 2.3% in 2020.
That was the lowest since the Chinese economy shrank by 1.6% at the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, but was in stark contrast to the performance of other major economies, all of which have reported very steep contractions as they struggle to battle the crisis.
In other equity news, shares in carmaker Stellantis rose by as much as 8% in their first day of trading on the Paris stock market on the completion of merger between Fiat Chrysler and PSA.
Centrica lost ground after it said chief financial officer Johnathan Ford has quit in the middle of a turnaround plan for the energy supplier. Ford has stepped down with immediate effect for personal reasons.
On the upside, Just Eat Takeaway, Ocado and meal kit company Hello Fresh - all of which have benefited from lockdowns and restrictions - were among the top risers.
Animal genetics company Genus rose 4% as it said profit growth for the year ending 30 June 2021 is set to be ahead of its previous expectations following a strong first-half trading performance.
French waste and water management company Suez, which is fighting a takeover approach from rival Veolia rose 3%, after it said it had received an alternative proposal from investment firms Ardian and Global Infrastructure Partners. Veolia shares fell 2%.