* STOXX 600 up 0.2 pct
* Banks boost European stocks
* Unilever gains after Q1 sales beat
* Man Group top gainer after Q1 assets rise 10 pct
* Abertis up as market weighs Atlantia's takeover plan
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By Helen Reid
LONDON, April 20 European shares edged higher on
Thursday as strong results from Unilever lifted bluechip
consumers staples stocks and helped offset weakness in the
The pan-European STOXX 600 index was up 0.3 percent
by 0730GMT. The UK's FTSE 100 was down 0.1 percent.
Banks were the top sectoral gainers for a second consecutive
session, up 0.6 percent. UBS on Wednesday upgraded European
banks to 'neutral' from 'underweight', citing rising reflation
expectations and a seemingly more benign regulatory environment.
Unilever helped drive UK and European benchmarks,
after the consumer sector bellwether posted a first-quarter
sales beat, helped by price increases.
The gains by Unilever, which earlier this year rejected a
hostile takeover bid by U.S. firm Kraft Heinz, supported the
personal and household goods sector which rose up 0.4
"Margins are where it really counts for Unilever as it tries
to shore up its defences against another bidder who can promise
higher margins and better return on equity," said ETX Capital
analyst Neil Wilson.
"Unilever is aiming at an underlying operating margin of 20
percent by 2020, underpinned by growth in emerging markets. The
first quarter update suggests it's on track but risks remain."
Nestle shares rose 0.7 percent after it maintained
a modest 2-4 percent growth target for underlying sales,
slightly less than Unilever's.
Shares in Spanish infrastructure company Abertis
rose 3.3 percent, among top European gainers, as the market
weighed Italian peer Atlantia's plan to take over the company.
Deutsche Bank downgraded both stocks from buy to hold. "We
believe the market could apply a risk discount to Atlantia on
the possibility of a take-over bid premium," said analysts at
Atlantia shares were down 1 percent.
Energy sector stocks were in the red, reeling from a sharp
slide in oil prices overnight. Lundin Petroleum and
Tullow Oil were among the top fallers in the sector
In another sign of a better backdrop for the asset
management industry, British hedge fund Man Group shares
rose 2.9 percent after it reported net inflows over the first
"This is a very strong start to the year that is likely to
lead to consensus upgrades," said Liberum analysts.
Earlier this week peer fund manager Ashmore posted
net inflows for the first time in nearly three years, and on
Wednesday Henderson posted first quarter results,
showing assets were cushioned by market gains in the period.
Pandora was up 5.6 percent, regaining ground
after a broker downgrade hit it earlier in the week. The company
updated its financial reporting structure, confirming its 2017
Swedish packaging firm Billerudkorsnas gained 4.3
percent after it posted first-quarter profits in line with
forecasts, saying it expected strong demand in the current
Construction equipment rental company Ashtead fell
3.7 percent after its U.S. peer United Rentals' results
France's CAC 40 outperformed peers, rising 0.6
percent with banks BNP Paribas and Societe Generale
among top gainers, up 2.9 and 1.9 percent
(Editing by Vikram Subhedar and Richard Lough)