By Barbara Kollmeyer
European stocks traded higher Friday on the next to last session ahead of Christmas weekend, as investors tracked global gains and embraced positive news surrounding the current COVID-19 wave.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index /zigman2/quotes/210599654/delayed XX:SXXP +1.42% , up 1.8% for the week so far, climbed near 0.9% to 482.45, but remains some ways off from its record of 489.95 hit Nov. 17. Financials did much of the heavy lifting.
The German DAX /zigman2/quotes/210597999/delayed DX:DAX +1.62% gained 0.8% and the French CAC /zigman2/quotes/210597958/delayed FR:PX1 +1.64% rose 0.8%. The FTSE 100 index /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX +0.27% gained 0.5%. The euro stepped back from recent gains, as the dollar /zigman2/quotes/210598269/delayed DXY -0.19% found its footing, though the pound /zigman2/quotes/210561263/realtime/sampled GBPUSD +0.1983% rose.
The Euronext and London Stock Exchange will observe a shortened session on Christmas Eve, Friday, with Wall Street closed. London markets won’t reopen until Wednesday, while most Europe markets are open next week, but both London and New York markets will see trading on Friday, New Year’s Eve.
Thursday marked some relief for Europe’s current power shortage, with natural gas on the TTF trading hub in the Netherlands down 22% on Thursday to 135 euros per megawatt hour, but remain up nearly 45% in December alone. U.K. natural-gas prices dropped by a similar amount. The pullback came as the weather improved for the region, plus a flotilla of U.S. liquefied natural gas tankers were headed for Europe.
But one of Europe’s other big issues, COVID-19 and the omicron spread, promises to haunt the holidays. Spain plans to return outdoor mask requirements as it battles the highest cases of the pandemic and an increasingly stressed healthcare system. The U.K. has also seen infections from the omicron variant surge beyond 100,000, but stricter measures have yet to be announced.
“The eurozone is ending the year on a sour note with the emergence of the omicron variant shaping the outlook. The rapid spread of omicron in tandem with increased family gatherings over the Christmas period suggests that Europe is likely to be hit by a strong surge in cases over the coming weeks,” said Nicola Nobile, economist at Oxford Economics.
And that means more restrictions to come, some of which have already been seen. “Either way the outlook is deteriorating. Accordingly, we plan to proceed with a further downward revision to our forecasts for the eurozone in early-January,” she added in a note to clients.
Among stocks on the move, travel-related names rose, with Wizz Air Holdings /zigman2/quotes/210449062/delayed UK:WIZZ -1.35% up 4%, International Consolidated Airlines /zigman2/quotes/208070069/delayed UK:IAG +1.30% and TUI /zigman2/quotes/207049334/delayed UK:TUI -0.45% rising 3% each.
Investors also got some deal news for a pair of companies. Shares of Holcim /zigman2/quotes/200284171/delayed CH:HOLN +0.82% climbed 2% after news it signed an agreement to acquire U.S.-based Malarkey Roofing Products in a deal worth $1.35 billion. The Swiss building-materials maker said the deal will boost its position full roofing provider and help its reach sales of $4 billion from its roofing unit 2025.
Dublin-based Flutter Entertainment /zigman2/quotes/206709455/delayed IE:FLTR +2.41% rose 1.9% after saying it bought Italian online gaming operator Sisal from CVC Capital Partners Fund VI in a 1.62 billion pound ($2.16 billion) deal.
Novartis /zigman2/quotes/203286410/delayed CH:NOVN -0.80% /zigman2/quotes/203243705/composite NVS +0.22% said late Wednesday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Leqvio, a cholesterol therapy. Shares rose near 1%.