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18 Jan 2021 | 11:36

Europe midday: Stocks flat as covid curbs hit sentiment

(Sharecast News) - European stocks were flat at midday with investors ignoring positive China GDP data, while the termination of merger talks between French retailer Carrefour and Canada's Alimentation Couche-Tard also dampened sentiment. The pan-European STOXX 600 index was flat, with France's CAC 40 0.26% lower. With US markets closed for the Martin Luther King public holiday there was little impetus to drive shares.

"While US trading activity will minimised today, speculation over whether (President-elect Joe) Biden will be able to garner enough support to pass his full stimulus package remain a key concern for markets," said IG analyst Joshua Mahoney.

Carrefour shares fell 6% after announcing on 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".

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 lower 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 Mahony said.

The latest data out of China showed the economy grew by 2.3% in 2020 in a sharp rebound from the coronavirus pandemic which tore through the country in the early part of the year.

The annual growth rate 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 contractions as they struggle to battle the crisis.

In other equity news, shares in carmaker Stellantis rose almost 3% in its first day of trading in 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 4.45% 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 2.8%, after it said it had received an alternative proposal from investment firms Ardian and Global Infrastructure Partners. Veolia shares fell 3.6%.

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