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European stocks sink as Greece, Fed, oil weigh

European markets closed sharply lower on Thursday, as traders digest the latest minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve and concerns over oil, Greece and China's growth continued.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index tumbled to close more than 2 percent lower, as did both the benchmark French CAC and the German DAX.

The U.K.'s benchmark FTSE 100 index outperformed its European counterparts, closing provisionally 0.6 percent lower, having fallen to its lowest level in seven months.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
Volume
FTSE
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DAX
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CAC
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IBEX 35
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Global markets were pressure on Thursday after minutes from the Fed provided few clues as to whether there might be the long-awaited rate hike in September. U.S. stocks traded lower and China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index closed more than 3.3 percent lower.

Meanwhile, Australia's ASX index fell to its lowest level for nearly seven months amid concerns about energy prices, which also affected European stocks.

Oil crashed to a 6-½-year low on Wednesday, after the U.S. EIA report showed an unexpected rise in crude stockpiles. Both Brent and U.S. crude oil pared some losses by the end of European trade, with the former around $46.90 per barrel and the latter around $41.

However, there were bright spots among European mining stocks, as gold enjoyed a safe-haven rebound. Fresnillo, Anglo American, Glencore and other miners closed near the top of the STOXX 600, as wary investors piled into bullion.

Greece's benchmark Athens Composite index closed down 3.5 percent, as rumors began to circulate that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would shortly call an election, to be scheduled in September.

Greek banks were hammered once again, with the National Bank of Greece and the Bank of Piraeus closing down 9.5 percent and 13.5 percent respectively.

In other stock news, shares in Dutch marine engineering company Boskalis surged 8.8 percent after it posted a better-than-expected 21 percent rise in first-half earnings.

Also in the Netherlands, Ahold reported a 33 percent year-on-year rise in second quarter net profit and a 17 percent jump in sales. shares closed 2.1 percent higher.