* Tech stocks at highest in two decades
* Commerzbank tumbles as quarterly loss deepens
* Credit Agricole soars on better-than-expected Q4
* Banks lead European sectoral declines (Updates to close)
By Shreyashi Sanyal and Susan Mathew
Feb 11 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Thursday, as investors kept close watch on a barrage of earnings reports from companies and on progress in stimulus measures in the United States for clues on the pace of business recovery.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index .STOXX closed up 0.5%, on track for a near 4% gain in February.
The STOXX 600 is about 5% away from its peak of February 2020 after a rally of about 50% since it crashed in March, aided by historic monetary and fiscal stimulus.
Investors kept a close watch on signs of progress around the proposed $1.9 trillion U.S. stimulus bill, with data showing a stalling recovery in the U.S. labour market strengthening the case for it. stocks, the biggest beneficiaries of the coronavirus pandemic, were the top boosts on Thursday as a surge in U.S. peers kept the tech-heavy Nasdaq .IXIC near all-time highs. Europe's tech sector .SX8P rose 2.2% to hit their highest since 2001. .N
The banks sector .SX7P dropped 0.5% as Germany's Commerzbank CBKG.DE tumbled 6% after the lender said its loss deepened in the fourth quarter. France's second-biggest listed bank Credit Agricole CAGR.PA jumped almost 5% after posting better-than-expected fourth-quarter results. expect growth in corporate earnings this year, driven by stimulus-induced liquidity, but are wary of next year as the measures may start to fade.
"With the additional risks of corporate taxation, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe like in the UK – there is a debate about raising corporate tax. So, for next year, I think the rise in earnings will be much more moderate," Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum.
A 13% plunge in Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield URW.AS saw it languish at the bottom of the STOXX 600, after the shopping centres owner said it planned to cut U.S. exposure to close to zero. grim new came from Saab SAABb.ST after the Swedish defence company missed fourth-quarter profit forecasts on weak demand in civil aviation. shares .FTSE closed flat as energy shares weighed and concerns grew about the UK variant of the coronavirus, which scientists said could undermine the protection given by vaccines against developing COVID-19. AstraZeneca AZN.L have stated that they will have a booster that addresses these new variants by Autumn, there is a risk that these strains will stifle efforts to reopen the economy in the coming months," said Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at online trading firm IG.
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