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European shares rise in hopes of a Brexit commerce deal

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LONDON – European markets opened higher on Wednesday as investors hoped a Brexit trade deal could be reached amid concerns over approval of a long-belated US coronavirus stimulus package.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 Index rose 0.5% during morning trading, with auto stocks rising 1.6% to lead gains. Healthcare stocks bucked the trend, slipping 0.3%.

On Tuesday, EU chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, said the bloc was making a "final push" towards a Brexit trade deal with the UK, but disagreements persist over fishing rights. There were positive reports of the talks, with ITV's Robert Peston claiming an agreement could be reached on Wednesday.

In the US, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump proposed not to sign the US $ 900 billion Covid Aid bill passed by Congress earlier this week. Trump called the move an inappropriate "disgrace" and urged lawmakers to make a number of changes, including larger direct payments to individuals and families.

In Asia, stocks were higher despite Trump's remarks. The broadest MSCI index for stocks in the Asia-Pacific region outside of Japan rose 0.6%.

On Wall Street, stock futures changed little in overnight trading and largely rebounded from previous declines after Trump raised concerns about the new Covid bailout.

Back in Europe, France reopened its border with England on Wednesday. Passengers arriving at the border must have a negative coronavirus test result. It did so after France imposed a ban on people and cargo from the UK amid concerns about the apparently fast-spreading strain of Covid first identified in the south-east of England.

Concerns about the economic impact of the UK's tough new lockdown measures to contain the spread of the new strain of coronavirus, as well as ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, have weighed on investor sentiment recently.

Travel and leisure stocks got a boost from news that France lifted its travel restrictions on Wednesday. British Airways' parent company, IAG, rose 3% to lead the sector.

In terms of individual stocks, Daimler rose 3% to the top of the Stoxx 600 after a report in the Handelsblatt that the German automaker plans to list its truck business.

In the European benchmark, Games Workshop fell by almost 2%, while the food set supplier HelloFresh fell by almost 3%.

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Steven Gregory