StockBeat: Europe Markets Rise as Bombed-Out Bank Stocks Rebound

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By Geoffrey Smith — Europe’s stock markets started the week in bright mood, led by bank stocks amid upbeat comments from China on its trade dispute with the U.S. and ongoing confidence that the Brexit saga is moving towards its conclusion.

Over the weekend, Chinese vice-premier and top trade negotiator Liu He was quoted as saying that there had been substantial progress on resolving differences with the U.S. in recent talks.

“Stopping the escalation of the trade war benefits China, the U.S and the whole world. It’s what producers and consumers alike are hoping for,” Liu said in a speech that was interpreted by many as preparing the public for the confirmation of a “phase-1” deal to de-escalate the dispute.

Markets were also sustained by hopes that Prime Minister Boris Johnson can force his EU withdrawal bill through parliament, having backed away from forcing a vote on it on Saturday. Getting the bill passed would end the short-term uncertainty over Britain’s formal departure from the bloc but would still leave large, longer-term questions over the U.K.’s future access to the EU’s single market unanswered.

By 5 AM ET (0900 GMT), the benchmark was up 0.4% at 393.24, just a whisker below the 17-month high that it hit last week. The U.K. was up less than 0.1%, thanks to sterling strength, while the German was up 0.6% and the Italian was up 0.4%.

Markets are benefiting from some recent upgrades out of Wall Street. JPMorgan (NYSE:) turning more bullish on the region last week and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:) analysts reportedly upgrading European banks to overweight at the weekend.

Bank stocks were among the biggest gainers in early trading, led by Commerzbank (DE:) with a 3.9% gain and Danske Bank , up 3.0%. Six of the biggest seven gainers in the were also banks, Santander (MC:) also catching the eye with a plan to launch a nationwide online deposit-taking platform in the U.S., a step that would greatly increase its presence in that market.

More than anything, Morgan Stanley’s call is a valuation-based play on a bombed-out sector. Commerzbank (DE:) trades at only one-quarter of the book value of its assets, while the sector as a whole trades at 0.64 times book, according to data compiled by Few trade at more than 11 times this year’s expected earnings, while banks such as Intesa Sanpaolo (MI:), ABN AMRO (AS:), Natixis (PA:) and Societe Generale (PA:) offer dividends of over 8%. Nordea (HE:) and Danske Bank (CSE:) offer even higher yields of over 10%, albeit against a background of looming changes to regulation that may force them to cut their payouts.

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