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UPDATE 2-European stocks hold onto four-month highs on trade talks hopes
Published at 18/02/2019 at 16:49

* European stocks up 0.2 pct

* Autos weigh on U.S. imports report

* Wirecard jumps after BaFin bans shorts

(Adds closing prices)

By Helen Reid

LONDON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - European stocks hovered around their highest level in four months on Monday as hopes of progress in U.S.-China trade talks kept sentiment afloat while Wall Street was closed for a bank holiday.

The STOXX 600 closed up 0.2 percent, steadying at its highest level since Oct 10.

French car parts maker Faurecia climbed 1.3 percent after saying it hoped to outperform the market this year and reported margin expansion, though it warned of negative auto production growth in general.

"2019 guidance is more cautious on growth, but resilient margins and FCF should limit any downgrades," said Jefferies analysts.

Faurecia's gain bucked the trend in the autos sector which fell 0.3 percent, lagging the market after data showed car sales in China fell for a seventh straight month.

Investors in the auto sector were also on tenterhooks after the U.S. Commerce Department sent its report on national security and car imports to President Trump, setting the stage for possible tariffs.

Leading the market, Wirecard shares jumped 15.2 percent after German market regulator BaFin banned the establishment or increase of short positions in the stock.

"I am in two minds as to how much volatility will be removed," said Mark Taylor, sales trader at Mirabaud Securities.

"The next few days will tell if longs are still looking for levels to sell and won't feel they're battling with shorts... And, of course, any existing shorts are now limited in their actions."

UK-listed consumer goods firm Reckitt Benckiser also provided a big boost to the market, up 4.6 percent after reporting higher-than-expected Q4 sales growth, helped by improvements in both its health and home and hygiene businesses.

Chipmaker AMS rose 3.5 percent after an article

by Barrons saying the company is trying to diversify away from the slowing iPhone segment into other consumer areas and industrial applications.

The bank index inched up 0.4 percent, having risen sharply on Friday after European Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure said a new round of cheap multi-year loans to banks was possible.

That big reaction showed how desperate equity investors are for central banks to do something to help, Ian Williams, strategist at Peel Hunt said.

In other negative moves, Casino shares fell 2.5 percent after Deutsche Bank cut its rating to "hold" from "buy".

Overall analysts have been increasingly downbeat about earnings potential in Europe and globally as macroeconomic data continued to disappoint.

"Looking at where global risks are, it seems the euro zone is more dangerous than China or the US in terms of what you should be worrying about. It's been where macro surprises have been more dramatic," said Peel Hunt's Williams.

Analysts have slashed their estimates for 2019 earnings growth for MSCI Europe from 9.5 percent in early November to 6.5 percent now.

(Reporting by Helen Reid, Editing by Danilo Masoni and Angus MacSwan)

((mailto:Helen.Reid@thomsonreuters.com; +44 20 7542 0402;))