European shares end lower but log biggest January gain in eight years
- STOXX 600 off 0.2%, records best Jan since 2015
- UniCredit tops STOXX 600 on profit beat
- UBS down after flagging caution for 2023
- Europe's economy grows in Q4 but weak outlook for 2023
Jan 31 (Reuters) - Europe's STOXX 600 fell on Tuesday as investors geared up for a fresh round of interest rate hikes from top central banks, but the index still recorded its biggest January percentage gain since 2015.
The pan-European STOXX 600 (.STOXX) closed down 0.2%. However, the index logged a monthly gain of 6.7% on hopes of better-than-expected corporate earnings and signs of economic resilience.
"Europe got very lucky in the sense that it was a mild winter and so the worst fears about energy prices did not come to pass," said Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers.
The coming days will be an important test for the rally in equities this year, with the U.S. Federal Reserve widely expected to raise its policy rate by 25 basis points on Wednesday while the European Central Bank and the Bank of England will likely raise rates by 50 bps each on Thursday.
"There's less consensus about what the ECB might do, not necessarily at this meeting but going forward. There's some real drama in the ECB, about 25 (bps rate hike) versus 50 and for how long," said Sosnick.
Economic data from the region on Tuesday did little to ease market jitters.
The euro zone eked out growth in the final three months of last year, but the overall picture nevertheless remains weak, with meagre growth forecast for 2023.
Further, German retail sales unexpectedly fell in December, while French inflation rose in January on higher energy prices.
STOXX 600 companies' earnings are expected to increase around 7.3% in the fourth quarter, nearly half the growth forecast seen at the start of January, Refinitiv data showed.
The healthcare sector was the biggest drag on the STOXX 600 on Tuesday, pulled down by a drop in shares of Novo Nordisk AS (NOVOb.CO) and Roche Holding AG (ROG.S).
UniCredit (CRDI.MI) jumped 12.3% to touch a near five-year high after pledging to return 5.25 billion euros ($5.69 billion) from its 2022 earnings after posting a record quarterly profit.
Gains in the stock boosted Europe's banks index (.SX7P), which rose 0.6%, while financial services (.SXFP), which was among the top sectoral decliners, was dragged down by a fall in shares of UBS Group AG (UBSG.S).
UBS, the world's largest wealth manager, fell 2.1% after predicting an "uncertain" year ahead.
Rate-sensitive real estate stocks (.SX86P) and miners (.SXPP) fell over 1% each.
Among other stocks, Stora Enso (STERV.HE) fell 3.1% on a margin squeeze warning, while Rheinmetall AG (RHMG.DE) dropped 5.9% after the German arms maker announced a convertible bond offering.
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