Carmakers put European stocks on road to record-high close



* Nestle tumbles on Jefferies downgrade

* Valneva falls for seventh day

* Automakers surge to record highs (Updates with closing market prices)

By Sruthi Shankar and Ambar Warrick

Jan 5 (Reuters) - Automobile stocks helped drive European shares to new highs on Wednesday, even as a new year rally appeared to be running out of gas due to concerns over COVID-19 and slowing growth.

The continent-wide STOXX 600 index .STOXX rose 0.1% to 494.35 points, its third consecutive record closing high.

But a recent rally appeared to be losing traction, amid concerns over the omicron coronavirus variant, rising interest rates and mixed economic data.

The European automobile subindex .SXAP was the best performer, jumping 2.7% to a record high as investors expected production to roar back from a semiconductor shortage, with car sales also likely to improve.

Germany's BMW BMWG.DE added 2.2% after it achieved record sales from its BMW brand in 2021.

But JPMorgan took a cautious stance for the sector in 2022, citing consumer uncertainty over electric vehicles in Europe.

"We... see a sharper recovery in 2H22 as additional chip capacity comes online," analysts at the investment bank wrote. The bank is also overweight on automakers such as Daimler DAIGn.DE and Renault RENA.PA , as well as tyremakers Michelin MICP.PA and Nokian NRE1V.HE .

Renault jumped 5.3% to the top of France's CAC 40 .FCHI after Qualcomm QCOM.O announced deals to supply chips to automakers including the French carmaker.

Mining stocks .SXPP rose 1.6%, tracking stronger commodity prices as investors bet that demand would recover from a COVID-induced lull.

Other economically-exposed sectors also gained, with banks .SX7P up 0.2% on expectations of higher interest rates.

Technology stocks .SX8P fell 0.5% as the prospect of higher rates made the sector appear less attractive.

"There are wobbles in the global equity markets on the back of higher back-end U.S. Treasury yields and concerns about the Chinese tech sector," Sebastien Galy, senior macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management, said.

"We should see the fear ebb to leave us with the shape of a reality that is less clear cut than post COVID-19 shock."

Data also painted a mixed picture of the euro zone economy, as a survey showed a recovery faltered in December due to a resurgence in COVID-19 infections.

Among other movers, Nestle NESN.S slipped 2.7%, and was among the top drags on the STOXX 600 after Jefferies downgraded the firm on expectations that its margins would remain under pressure from commodity cost inflation.

Valneva VLS.PA fell for the seventh consecutive day amid uncertainty over its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu, Aditya Soni and Alexander Smith

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