European markets finished lower on Friday and ended the week flat, as the situation in Ukraine erased any optimism over earnings season.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index provisionally closed lower by 0.82 percent on Friday. While earnings results and market activity throughout this week have offered some positives for investors, the return of Ukraine fears dominated Friday's trading session.
Germany, with its heavy exposure to Russian companies, saw the DAX close provisionally lower by 1.5 percent, continuing a decline that began yesterday afternoon.
In Ukraine, tensions escalated overnight after Ukrainian troops killed several pro-Russian rebels, and Russian troops started military exercises close to its border with Ukraine. Fears over potential military conflict are likely to dominate European markets today.
Standard & Poor's cut its foreign and local currency rating on Russia, as capital continues to flow out of the country amid heightened tensions with the West. S&P downgraded Russia's foreign currency rating to one notch above "junk" status to 'BBB-/A-3' from 'BBB/A-2'.
"In our view, the tense geopolitical situation between Russia and Ukraine could see additional significant outflows of both foreign and domestic capital from the Russian economy and hence further undermine already weakening growth prospects," the ratings agency warned.
Russian shares, which have traded lower this week, fell further following the downgrade, with the MICEX stock index slipping over 1.5 percent.
In Asia, Shanghai and Seoul markets were both down on worries about earnings and finance. The Nikkei recouped its losses after promising consumer price figures for Japan.
Shares in the French engineering group Alstom were suspended on Friday after a request from the regulator, the Euronext stock exchange. This comes after shares surged 10 percent on Thursday with speculation that General Electric is in takeover talks with the firm. Alstom held a board meeting on Friday afternoon with Reuters reporting that GE was in talks with Alston to buy its global power arm.
France's Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said he was concerned about a possible takeover by General Electric and that he planned a meeting with GE management.
In the U.K., retail sales edged up unexpectedly in March, official data showed on Friday. Retail sales volumes grew by 0.1 percent on the month to show 4.2 percent growth for 2014, the Office for National Statistics said.
Neste Oil falls
WPP, one of the world's biggest advertising companies, announced slightly better-than-expected revenues of £2.57 billion ($4.31 billion) for the first quarter, a 1.5 percent rise – but currency headwinds knocked 8.1 percent off reported revenues. Shares provisionally finished lower by 1 percent.
Finnish oil refiner Neste Oil reported weaker-than-expected first-quarter profit on Friday and cut its profit outlook for 2014; shares provisionally finished lower by over 5 percent.
British bookmaker William Hill announced on Friday that it would shut down 109 of its betting shops in 2014 due to a tax increase on high-stakes gambling machines, and that operating profit had fallen by 14 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Despite this, shares in the bookmaker finished provisionally higher by around 2 percent.