Banks Lifts Europe Shares Ahead of ECB Decision

Banks lifted European stock markets on Wednesday, as investors awaited an interest rate decision from the European Central Bank due later in the day.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index (XX:SXXP) +1.59% added 0.8% to 236.38.

Petropavlovsk PLC (UK:POG) +5.77% posted one of the biggest gains in the index, up 5.6%, as UBS lifted the share to buy from neutral.

Elsewhere, in the pan-European index, banks provided the biggest lift ahead of an expected announcement by the ECB over its latest interest rate decision. The central bank is widely expected to leave its key lending rate unchanged at 1%, while ECB staff are expected to downgrade their growth projections.

Lloyds Banking Group PLC (UK:LLOY) +4.80% LYG +2.58% gained 4.8%, Barclays PLC (UK:BARC) +5.07% BCS +1.58% took on 3.9% and HSBC Holdings PLC (UK:HSBA) +2.54% HBC +0.90% advanced 2%. Those gains helped lift the U.K. FTSE 100 index (UK:UKX) +1.31% 0.9% to 5,309.45.

Banks were also on the rise in France, where Credit Agricole SA (FR:ACA) +1.49% moved 1.8% higher, BNP Paribas SA (FR:BNP) +1.40% gained 1.5% and Société Générale SA (FR:GLE) +1.51% rose 1.7%.

The CAC 40 index (FR:PX1) +1.95% traded 0.9% higher at 3,013.38, further buoyed by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (FR:MC) +1.32% up 1.9%, after HSBC upgraded the luxury retailer to overweight from neutral.

In Germany, Commerzbank AG (DE:CBK) +0.23% rose 2.5% and Deutsche Bank AG (DE:DBK) +1.68% added 1.2%. The DAX 30 index (DX:DAX) +1.77% ticked 1.1% higher to 6,035.88.

Outside the major county-specific indexes, Dutch Royal Ahold NV (NL:AH) -2.38% tripped 2.4%. The food retailer said profit declined in first quarter due to intense price competition.