Wednesday, May 18

European shares retreat from pre-war levels as investors hit pause

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European shares retreated after three straight sessions of gains on Wednesday, as investors paused to take stock of the outcome of Russia-Ukraine peace talks.

The STOXX 600 closed at levels hit before the conflict on Tuesday after peace talks between Russia and Ukraine yielded the most tangible sign of progress toward negotiating an end to the war.

“While the optimism regarding the Russia-Ukraine peace talks in Istanbul boosted appetite for risk yesterday, the lack of palpable results from the talks is likely to mute appetite for risk today,” UniCredit economists wrote in a client note.

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According to British intelligence, some Russian units suffering heavy losses in Ukraine had been forced to return home and to neighboring Belarus.

Commodities-exposed sectors were in positive territory, with European miners and the energy sector rising 0.8% and 1.6%, respectively, as prices of oil and metals rebounded.

Given the rally in commodity prices since the onset of the war, energy stocks are up 3% this month, while miners have added more than 5%, broadly outperforming the STOXX 600’s 1.5% gain in the same period.

However, analysts at BCA Research said European stocks could be in for a bumpy road ahead.

“A breakdown in (Russia-Ukraine) negotiations could trigger another down leg in equities and spur a flight to safety which would benefit the more defensive US stocks at the expense of Eurozone ones,” they said.

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Germany declared an “early warning” of a possible gas supply emergency, saying the measure was designed to prepare for the risk of disruption or stoppage of natural gas flows from Russia.

Among individual stocks, Ericsson shares fell 0.7% after investors publicly rebuked Chief Executive Borje Ekholm and its board over a scandal involving potential payments to Islamic State.

Britain’s John Menzies rose 4% after it agreed to be acquired by Kuwaiti firm Agility for nearly $750 million.

Shares of Belgian cinema operator Kinepolis Group slipped 4.4% after announcing its finance chief Nicolas De Clercq would step down.

Also on the radar, European Central Bank Chief Christine Lagarde will speak at an event later in the day. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)