Insurers lead European shares higher as Irma, Korea worries ease

MILAN (Reuters) - European shares closed higher on Monday as insurers benefited from a drop in the estimated cost of Hurricane Irma and investors breathed a sigh of relief that North Korea celebrated its founding day without a major missile test.

Traders sit at their desks in front of the DAX board at the Frankfurt stock exchange, Germany, June 29, 2015. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

The pan-European STOXX 600 .STOXX rose 1 percent. The insurance index .SXIP posted its best performance since April with a 2.1 percent jump after Irma, which pounded heavily populated areas of central Florida over the weekend, gradually lost strength and was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Wall Street opened sharply higher, helping Europe during afternoon trading.

“Insured losses (overall) are now expected to be less than many feared,” Credit Suisse analysts said after the estimated insured loss in the United States resulting from Irma was cut to $20-40 billion.

Among top gainers were reinsurers Hannover Re HNRGn.DE, which jumped 5.3 percent, while Beazley BEZG.L, Munich Re MUVGn.DE and Swiss Re SRENH.S rose by 4.1-4.3 percent.

Analysts at Baader Helvea upgraded Hannover Re to hold from sell, saying that following the stock’s recent heavy losses the market had already priced in an extremely severe scenario.

Europe’s insurance index has underperformed the broader market so far in 2017 and is still down 4.6 percent from its year high, hit in early August.

Banks also benefited from the insurers' rally and rose 1.5 percent across all major bourses. Banco Santander SAN.MC, Commerzbank VBKG.DE, Unicredit CRDI.MI, and Credit Agricole CAGR.PA rose between 2.5 percent and 3.4 percent.

Elsewhere, pharma heavyweight AstraZeneca AZN.L rose 2.1 percent after two of its drugs tackling lung cancer delivered impressive clinical results on Saturday.

That helped the British group offset a big clinical trial setback in the disease in July that sent its shares down more than 15 percent, its biggest daily loss ever.

In the same sector, however, Denmark's Lundbeck LUN.CO slumped 13.8 percent, the leading faller in Europe, after the resignation of CEO Kåre Schultz.

Reporting by Danilo Masoni and Julien Ponthus, Editing by Mark Potter