Stocks – Europe Largely Flat; Oil and Earnings in Focus

European stock markets traded largely unchanged Tuesday, with investors wary of getting too involved ahead of key central bank meetings, against a background of weak earnings from the financial and oil sectors.

At 3:35 AM ET (0735 GMT), the U.K.’s FTSE index traded flat, France’s CAC 40 was down 0.1%, while the DAX up 0.1%. The broader based Stoxx 600 Europe index climbed 0.3%. 

Oil futures slumped Tuesday after the largest U.S. oil exchange-traded fund said it would sell all its front-month crude contracts to avoid further losses as prices collapse. This renewed decline in oil prices has put a dampener on optimism about the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions seen globally.

At 3:35 AM ET, U.S. crude June futures traded 17% lower at $10.34 a barrel. The international benchmark Brent contract fell 4.7% to $21.98.

BP (LON:BP) fell 2% after its first-quarter profits tumbled by two-thirds, reflecting the drop in oil demand. The energy major’s debt rose sharply as it defended its quarterly dividend payment.

Aside from oil, bank earnings have dominated the news flow Tuesday, with the banking sector in the spotlight.

Shares in UBS (NYSE:UBS) climbed 3.9% after the Swiss banking giant reported a 40% increase in first-quarter net profit, as clients increased trading activity during market turmoil sparked by the coronavirus outbreak.

By contrast, HSBC (LON:HSBA) dropped 1.4% after the London-headquartered bank reported a 48% slump in its year-to-year pretax profit, and a 5% drop in revenue, during the first quarter. of 2020 on Tuesday.

Shares in Delivery Hero (DE:DHER) rose 1.4% as the online takeaway food company reported that orders and revenues almost doubled in the first quarter as coronavirus lockdowns closed restaurants and prompted more people to order meals from home.

In economic news, French consumer confidence suffered its biggest ever monthly drop in April–falling to 95 from 103 in March, its lowest level since January 2019–amid the nationwide lockdown to contain the novel coronavirus.

These dire figures put the focus back on the central banks–the U.S. Federal Reserve finishes its two-day meeting on Wednesday while the European Central Bank meets on Thursday–amid rising expectations that these institutions could offer up more stimulus to boost economies that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 virus.

Elsewhere, gold futures fell 0.6% to $1,712.70/oz, while EUR/USD traded at 1.0828, flat on the day.

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