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Europe closes down but off lows; euro data weighs

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European shares closed down, but off session lows on Thursday, after investor confidence took a hit earlier in the session with the release of weaker-than-expected euro zone data.

Industrial production data for July showed a 1.5 percent drop on a monthly basis, worse than the 0.1 percent increase expected. The STOXX 600 Index hovered around five-year highs in the afternoon nonetheless.

Syria remained at the forefront of investors' minds however. Following U.S. President Barack Obama's speech on Syria on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will meet in Geneva on Thursday to discuss Moscow's suggestion that Syria surrender its chemical weapons to international control. However, the rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, said on Thursday morning that it rejected the initiative. Obama has pressed for military strikes against Syria if diplomacy fails.

In Asia, China's benchmark stock index hit a three-month high following supportive comments from Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, Keqiang said the government will push on with economic and financial reforms as it aims for steady growth.

However, fears of a looming reduction in the U.S. Federal Reserve's stimulus program weighed on the rest of Asian stocks. Next week the Federal Open Market Committee meets once again amid expectations that this will be the month when the Fed announces a tapering of its bond-buying program.

In stocks news, shares in Swiss luxury goods group Richemont led the Stoxx 600 Index after it posted a weaker-than-expected sales update. It flagged soft demand for its high-end watches from China.

Meanwhile, shares of U.K. supermarket chain WM Morrison climbed by up to 2.8 percent after the firm outlined its push into online and convenience stores, despite missing analysts' expectations in the first half of the year. It was one of the top gainers on the FTSE 100.

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