investors track earnings, geopolitical tensions

LONDON — European stocks were lower on Thursday as investors continued to monitor geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe, while digesting a slew of corporate earnings reports.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index fell 0.5% by mid-afternoon as reports of artillery fire and U.S. warnings of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine soured risk assets.

Utilities stocks gained 0.6%, bucking the downward trend, while insurance stocks fell 1.7% to lead losses.

Ukraine on Thursday accused pro-Russian separatists of provocation, claiming shelling in the east of the country had damaged a kindergarten in civilian territory.

Meanwhile U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on a call Thursday morning that Russia “is moving toward an imminent invasion,” with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken set to address the United Nations Security Council later in the day.

The U.S. on Wednesday accused Russia of adding 7,000 troops to the 150,000 already stationed at the Ukrainian border, branding as “false” the Kremlin’s claims that it had begun a partial withdrawal of its military presence.

European markets have been attuned to developments in Ukraine in recent days after selling off sharply on Monday as a Russian invasion appeared imminent. A meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels concludes on Thursday.

It was a busy morning for earnings in Europe, with Airbus, Nestle, Standard Chartered, Commerzbank, Orange, Reckitt Benckiser, Schneider Electric and Kering among those reporting.

Commerzbank posted a better-than-expected net profit in the fourth quarter despite undergoing a major strategic overhaul, and offered positive guidance for 2022. The German lender’s shares climbed 4.1% by early afternoon deals.

Dutch engineering firm Arcadis and French luxury goods company Kering gained 10% and 6.6%, respectively, after strong fourth-quarter earnings reports.

At the bottom of the European blue chip index, Swedish software firm Sinch plunged more than 21% as investors balked at its fourth-quarter results.

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Global investors are also reacting to the latest meeting minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve, published Wednesday, which showed officials set plans in motion to raise interest rates and unload the trillions of dollars of bonds on the central bank’s balance sheet.

Shares in Asia-Pacific were mixed overnight as investors monitored the geopolitical situation, while U.S. stock futures dipped slightly, with earnings and the Fed policy outlook also on the agenda.

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