European shares advance as Britons head to polls

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Frankfurt, Dec. 12 (BNA): European shares advanced on Thursday as investors awaited the outcome of a general election in Britain that may decide the future of Brexit as well as comments from new European Central Bank (ECB) chief Christine Lagarde.
The FTSE 100 .FTSE index comprising internationally-focused firms gained 0.6%, shrugging off the impact from a firmer sterling. The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.3%.
While all major opinion polls suggested that the ruling Conservative Party will win Thursday’s election, allowing them to pass a withdrawal deal and end 3-1/2-years of uncertainty, their lead seems to have narrowed recently, Reuters reported.
“A large (Conservative) majority is likely going to make it easier for a somewhat stable path towards a structured Brexit,” said Bert Colijn, Senior Eurozone Economist at ING Bank.
“But as ‘no-deal’ is still not off the table and people will be looking to see whether the chances of another cliff-edge Brexit at some point start to increase again.”
Dublin's ISEQ .ISEQ, typically sensitive to Brexit news, outperformed regional bourses with its 0.5% gain. Airline stocks also zoomed, with the travel and leisure index .SXTP gaining the most among European subsectors.
According to Reuters, hopes that Britain would eventually leave the European Union was among the major factors that have helped the STOXX 600 scale four-year peaks last month.
An accommodative stance from major central banks in the face of a slowing global growth has also fueled the rally. The Federal Reserve on Thursday signaled a “favorable” economic outlook next year as it held interest rates steady.
The ECB is also expected to keep its policy unchanged at 1245 GMT with the attention squarely on Lagarde’s remarks on broader policy revamp.
In corporate news, Balfour Beatty Plc (BALF.L) rose 3.6% after the infrastructure maintenance company forecast full-year profit slightly ahead of its expectations.
Germany’s Metro (B4B.DE) dropped 3.3% as the German wholesaler said market environment in Russia remained quite challenging.
Meanwhile, caution prevailed as weekend deadline closes in on the planned US duties on some $160 billion worth of Chinese goods.
US President Donald Trump is expected to meet with top trade advisers on Thursday to discuss the tariffs, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.