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European Equity Benchmarks Close Higher; EU Plans Trade Retaliation for US Tariffs

The broad-based major European indices closed higher in Wednesday's trading session, as investors favored utilities and steel producers.

In economic news, European Union (EU) trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom outlined plans to retaliate against proposed US tariffs on steel and aluminum, which include higher import duties on bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries, orange juice, steel and industrial products, she said, according to the BBC. Malmstrom said the EU will initiate World Trade Organization proceedings to take measures to deal with an expected surge of steel and aluminum imports into the EU.

Meanwhile Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, reported that seasonally adjusted GDP rose 0.6% in both the euro area (EA19) and the EU28 during Q4 of 2017, compared with the previous quarter. In Q3 of 2017, GDP grew by 0.7% in both zones.

Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose 2.7% in the euro area, and 2.6% in the EU28 in Q4 of 2017, after rising 2.7% in both zones in the previous quarter. Over the whole year 2017, GDP rose by 2.3% in the euro area, and by 2.4% in the EU28, compared with 1.8% and 2.0% respectively in 2016.

For Q4 of 2017, Estonia (+2.2%), Slovenia (+2.0%) and Lithuania (+1.4%) recorded the highest growth compared with the previous quarter, while Greece and Croatia recorded the lowest growth (both +0.1%), followed by Italy and Latvia (both +0.3%).

The most recent Europe Sector PMI data from IHS Markit for February showed slower rates of output expansion across most sectors in, but strong overall growth in many categories. Among seven broad areas monitored, technology was the fastest-growing in February. Basic materials, which had held the top spot for the previous four months, dropped to fourth place in February as growth slowed to a seven-month low.

UK House prices in the last three months to February were 1.8% higher than in the same period a year earlier, but 0.7% lower than in the preceding three months, according to the Halifax Price Index. The average house price in February was GBP224,353 ($311,332), down slightly from November's high of GBP226,408.

"House prices continue to remain broadly flat, as they have since the end of last year," said Russell Galley, managing director, Halifax. "The annual rate of growth has slowed from 2.2% in January to 1.8% in February, the lowest rate of growth since March 2013."

In equities, automobile and engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings led the FTSE higher in London, surging 11.5% after it reported a 25% increase in annual profits, followed by paper-based packaging company Smurfit Kappa, which climbed 5.8%. Steel mining company EVRAZ PLC, and online food ordering company Just Eat, closed 3.5% and 3.2% higher respectively, while electricity and gas utility company National Grid rose 2.9%.

In Frankfurt, airline operator Deutsche Lufthansa led the DAX higher, rising 3.7%, followed by health care company Fresenius SE, and real estate firm Vonovia, which climbed 3.2% and 2.8% respectively. Software company SAP, and Deutsche Bank were up 2.5% and 2.4%, while stock market operator Deutsche Boerse climbed 1.9%. Pharmaceutical firms Merck and Bayer increased 1.7% and 1.5% respectively.

In Paris, automaker Renault helped push the CAC into positive territory, rising 5.6%, while commercial real estate firm Unibail Rodamco climbed 1.8%. Chemical company Solvay, and industrial gasses provider Air Liquide each closed 1.3% higher, while construction materials supplier Cie de Saint-Gobain increased 1.2%. Environmental management services firm Veolia Environnement closed 1.1% higher.

The FTSE gained 0.16%, the DAX climbed 1.09%, and the CAC-40 rose 0.34%.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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