U.S. stocks fluctuated on Wednesday, but the Nasdaq Composite remained solidly in negative terrain, as investors cycled out of so-called momentum stocks.
The U.S. economy is on track for solid growth this quarter, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said in prepared remarks on Wednesday, but warned that a deterioration in housing or financial markets could alter that scenario. Economists now broadly expect the economy to have contracted in the first quarter, though they also project a strong rebound in the current quarter.
At the same time, Yellen cautioned that housing activity has remained disappointing and that the labor market was still "far from satisfactory."
Bank earnings dominate
Bank earnings dominated in Europe, with French banks Societe Generale and Credit Agricole, as well as German lender Commerzbank, posting results for the first quarter of this year.
Societe Generale reported net income for the first quarter fell 13.3 percent, as it booked a 525 million euro ($731 million) write-down on its Russian business over the Ukrainian turmoil. Shares in the bank closed down 0.8 percent.
Read MoreSocGen profit tumbles on Russia unit writedown
Credit Agricole was one of the top gainers on the French CAC index, closing up around 6.8 percent after it saw net income rise 29.6 percent in the first quarter of the year year-on-year, as cost-cutting measures came into effect.
Danish brewer Carlsberg was hit was by uncertainty in Russia as it reported a weaker-than-expected first quarter, capped by a weak Russian rouble and declining sales in Eastern Europe. The group lowered its outlook for 2014 net profit and for the Russian beer market, although shares closed up 1 percent as encouraging geopolitical news came late in the day regarding Ukraine.
HSBC, Europe's largest bank by assets, posted a 20 percent fall in pre-tax profit to $6.8 billion, with the group saying it experienced muted customer activity in April. Shares finished the day around 1.3 percent lower.
Read MoreHSBC pre-tax profit tumbles 20%
British grocer J Sainsbury posted a 5.3 percent rise in annual profit, its slowest growth in nearly a decade, illustrating the pressure the industry is under as a battle over prices to combat the rise of the discounters hots up. Shares closed down 2.9 percent, while U.K. rival Morrisons tumbled 5.5 percent.
Shares in Fiat-Chrysler finished down around 11.7 percent after the car maker unveiled an ambitious plan to boost sales by 60 percent by 2018 by betting on premium brands such as Jeep and Alfa Romeo. This did not go down well with investors.
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