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Volatile Valentine

There is no denying that in Belgium we have a soft spot for chocolate, and last week, the chocolatiers’ windows were full of heart-shaped boxes ahead of Valentine’s Day. Food retailers must have welcomed the helpful boost from this celebration after a quiet post-holiday period. In Japan for instance up to 85% of the annual consumption of chocolate takes place in the month following Valentine’s Day and for a country like Belgium which exports 700,000 tons of chocolate every year, the impact on business is quite significant.

Chocolate was not the only thing likely to have brightened the investors’ mood last week. The US-China “Valentine’s date” was well received as it signalled a potential softening of the tariff war. In mainland China, the upbeat effect on markets was immediate. The Chinese CSI 300 index climbed 1.8% on the day and enjoyed a four-day winning streak, totalling by Thursday a 4.8% increase. European and American shares also benefitted from the market optimism, and by Wednesday evening the Euro Stoxx 50 and S&P 500 had gained respectively 2.1% and 1.4% since the beginning of the week.

Unfortunately, on Thursday bleak US retail sales data and weaker than expected fourth quarter growth in Germany triggered fresh worries over global growth and put an end to the market rally. American stocks declined and European equities retreated from a three-month high.

The tide turned once again on Friday. European markets bounced back amid encouraging progress on US-China trade talks while Asian stocks took a hit in the wake of official data raising deflation concerns.

Overall, the week was strongly positive, and the Euro Stoxx 50 gained as much as 3.4%. In a very busy week, punctuated by several insurers’ earnings publications, the Stoxx 600 Insurance rose 2.5% and Ageas ended the week up 0.9%.