Stocks spike amid confusion over Ukraine cease-fire

Risk assets across Europe rose sharply on Wednesday, led by a surge in Russian stocks, on hopes that the presidents of both Ukraine and Russia were nearing a cease-fire agreement.

Russian shares on the MICEX index traded nearly 4 percent higher in the afternoon. Among the top performers, construction company Gruppa Kompaniy surged up to 9 percent, consumer electronics firm Kompaniya M Video rose up to 7 percent and Russian lender Sberbank climbed up to 8 percent.

Other European bourses tracked those gains with the German DAX indexclimbing 1.4 percent and the EURO STOXX 50 Volatility Index—used as a gauge of fear in the region’s stock markets—falling up to 6 percent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a political solution to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine could be reached at talks in Minsk, Belarus on Friday.

“Our views on the way to resolve the conflict, as it seemed to me, are very close,” Reuters cited Putin as saying at a press conference on Wednesday.

However, later on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Putin’s comments on peace were an attempt to avoid new sanctions from the West, according to Reuters.

It followed earlier confusion after Poroshenko announced he had reached a permanent cease-fire agreement with Russia, but later toned down the statement by dropping the word “permanent” from the text.

THOMAS LOHNES | Getty Images RANKFURT/MAIN, Germany: A trader sitting in front of a chart displaying German share index DAX gestures as he speaks on the phone

THOMAS LOHNES | Getty Images
RANKFURT/MAIN, Germany: A trader sitting in front of a chart displaying German share index DAX gestures as he speaks on the phone

The Russian ruble made major gains against the greenback. The currency started the session at 37.44 against the U.S. dollar but surged to trade at 36.79 after the Kremlin’s announcement.

Poroshenko’s press office said in a statement that a “mutual understanding was achieved concerning the steps which will enable the establishment of peace”.

This comes as European Union ambassadors are set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of more sanctions against Russia. Pro-Russian separatists have been battling Kiev’s forces in the mainly Russian-speaking Donbass region. Moscow has been accused by Kiev of sending troops into the region to fight alongside the rebels, which Russian officials have denied.

Read More How Europe’s slump could doom Ukraine

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Baltic nation of Estonia on Wednesday morning and said at a press conference that it was too early to tell what the cease-fire means. He added that his preference was for a strong, cooperative Russia.

Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, said that he was inclined to not believe the statement from the Russian Kremlin due to its track record of “spin”, and was minded to think the opposite.

Read More Ukraine may need bigger bailout: IMF

“Let’s see if this holds…a halt to fighting, however temporary, is a positive.” he said in research note after the first statement from Ukraine.

“Poroshenko will have to deliver on Putin’s agenda, and I really struggle to see how that can be sold domestically in Ukraine ahead of parliamentary elections in October.”

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