By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch) — European stock markets started April on a strong footing on Wednesday after a solid round of manufacturing data, partly recovering from sharp losses the prior day when investors banked profit ahead of the new quarter.
On Wednesday, the Stoxx 600 /zigman2/quotes/210599654/delayed XX:SXXP -0.14% added 0.3% to close at 398.52, just a few points short of its record close of 405.50 reached in March 2000.
Despite the weakness in Tuesday’s session, most of the region’s benchmarks logged solid quarterly gains, with the German DAX 30 index scoring its best quarter since 2003 and the Stoxx Europe 600 index marking its strongest period since 2009.
Other indexes: Germany’s DAX 30 index /zigman2/quotes/210597999/delayed DX:DAX +0.33% rose 0.3% to 12,001.38 on Wednesday, while France's CAC 40 index /zigman2/quotes/210597958/delayed FR:PX1 +0.14% put on 0.6% to 5,062.22. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 index /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX -0.59% climbed 0.5% to 6,809.50, buoyed by the benchmark’s oil firms and banks.
Data: The gains in Europe came after the manufacturing purchasing managers’ indexes for the eurozone showed improvement in March. The reading for the eurozone was revised up to 52.2, compared with a flash estimate of 51.9. In February, the PMI was at 51. A reading above 50 signals expansion.
“Improved economic news on the eurozone is coming pretty thick and fast at the moment, which is a very pleasant development after its prolonged struggles,” said Howard Archer, chief U.K. and European economist at IHS Global Insight, in a note.
He believes the eurozone is headed for gross-domestic-product growth of 1.6% in 2015, up significantly from 0.9% in 2014.
“However, this should not mask the fact that significant underlying structural problems remain in many countries,” he cautioned.
Germany’s manufacturing PMI for March was revised up to 52.8 from an earlier reading of 52.4, to hit an 11-month high.
In France, the number was also adjusted higher, with the PMI coming in at 48.8 compared with a flash estimate of 48.2.
Italy’s manufacturing PMI jumped to its highest level in 11 months in March, with the gauge rising to 53.3 from 51.9 in February. Output and export orders grew at the fastest rates since June last year, Markit said.
Greece developments: The Greek government and its international lenders still struggle to reach a reform agreement and the country could miss its €450 million loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund next week, German Spiegel magazine reported on Wednesday. Athens, however, later in the day denied the claims, according to Reuters. Read: Warren Buffett says eurozone could benefit from ‘Grexit’
The Athex Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210597948/delayed GR:GD +0.53% closed 1.3% lower at 765.37.
Greece scrambles to reach deal as cash runs low
Europe faces a key question: Will Greece and the Eurogroup finally agree on a reform deal to unlock the next tranche of bailout money for the cash-strapped country? The Greek government has promised to submit a fresh set of reform proposals on Monday, which the Eurogroup is expected to review later in the week.
Draghi comments: European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the Governing Council wants to see inflation hardening around the 2% level, suggesting the bank will be patient in assessing when to end its bond-buying program. The ECB launched its €60-a-month quantitative-easing program in March and expects it to run until September 2016.
Movers: Shares of Barry Callebaut AG /zigman2/quotes/210495410/delayed CH:BARN +0.30% jumped 6.6% after the Swiss chocolate maker reported a rise in half-year sales and profit.
FirstGroup PLC /zigman2/quotes/202157466/delayed UK:FGP +1.70% climbed 6.8% after the transportation operator said trading in the fourth quarter was in line with management’s expectations.
Shares of Dassault Systemes SA /zigman2/quotes/202655291/delayed FR:DSY +1.18% dropped 2.3% after Exane BNP Paribas cut the software company to underperform from neutral.