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LONDON: European shares slipped on Thursday as defensive and construction stocks fell on worries over a continuing surge in COVID-19 cases and signs of a tighter monetary policy environment.

The pan-European STOXX 600 fell 0.2%, with shares in healthcare, and personal and household goods falling the most, while Swiss plumbing supplies firm Geberit’s quarterly update hit construction stocks.

Geberit slipped 3.9% as it said increased uncertainty made it impossible to provide the 2022 outlook for prices of raw materials or the construction market overall.

The STOXX 600, which hit a record high at the start of the year, has struggled to maintain the gains as major central banks signal tighter policies, while investors remain concerned around the impact of higher inflation, the Omicron variant and supply pressures as the fourth-quarter earnings season kicks off.

European stocks could struggle to see major rallies with the looming prospects of higher rates, said Equiti Capital analyst David Madden.

“We’re going to see some companies particularly in the retail space, manufacturing sectors start talking about lower margins.”

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all adults, while the French Senate approved new measures to tackle the virus, including a vaccine pass.

Tech stocks gained for a third straight day following a seven-day losing streak. TMSC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker, posted record quarterly profit on strong demand, boosting the sector.

Semiconductor companies including BE Semiconductors , ASM International and Soitec climbed between 4.6% and 5.7%, while ASML Holding gained 2.5%.

STMicro added 2.3%, while Infineon inched up 1.7%. Among other stocks, Germany’s largest solar group SMA Solar Technology dropped 7.1% after a second forecast cut for 2021.

Food ingredients maker Chr Hansen rose 5.3% after reporting quarterly organic revenue growth well above forecasts.

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