Europe Markets

Europe tanks at close on global growth fears; banks plunge

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European stocks ended sharply lower on Thursday, as bank and commodity stocks sold off and investors remained jittery over the global economy's health.

The pan-European STOXX 600 tumbled, closing 3.7 percent down provisionally.

London's FTSE 100 fell 2.4 percent, while its continental counterparts, France's CAC 40 and Germany's DAX closed even lower, off 4 percent and 2.9 percent respectively.

Italy's FTSE MIB was off 5.6 percent, dragged down by its banks.

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena
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Banks tumbled on Thursday as concerns mounted over their potential performance in a low-growth and low-interest rate environment.

The STOXX 600 European bank index was Europe's worst sector performer, down 6.3 percent by the end of trade.

Societe Generale reported fourth-quarter net income that fell below analyst expectations and raised its provisions for litigation by 400 million euros, sending shares to close 12.6 percent lower.

Many of the Italian lenders including Banco Popolare and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena finished deep in the red over renewed concern over the health of the country's banking sector. The Italian government approved a package of measures on Wednesday to help banks offload their portfolio of non-performing loans. This however did little to help stocks in the sector. UBI Banca fell over 12 percent.

In her semi-annual congressional testimony on Wednesday and Thursday, Janet Yellen said the Federal Reserve had not ruled out instituting negative interest rates and said there was a "chance" of a downturn ahead.

This came after Sweden's Riksbank cut its key interest rate deeper into negative territory, to -0.5 percent from -0.35 percent.

In commodity markets, oil prices fell deep into the red again on concerns over the same concerns weak demand and excessive supply. Brent crude last stood over 2 percent down at $30.13, while U.S. crude slipped some 4 percent, trading at $26.32.

This flurry of news sent global markets into sell-off mode, with U.S. equities trading sharply lower, while Asia markets closed mixed to lower following Yellen's Wednesday remarks.

Pernod Ricard shares fizzle out

On the earnings front, Total saw a 26 percent year-on-year slump in fourth quarter adjusted net income amid low oil prices and said it would reduce its capex by more than 15 percent this year. Shares slipped over 3 percent.

And Pernod Ricard, the world's second-biggest spirits group, fell over 6.5 percent, after reporting a 3 percent rise in first-half profit but warned it still faced headwinds in China.

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Zurich Insurance closed 2.7 percent down after reporting a $424 million net loss in the fourth quarter, a bigger loss than analysts had expected.

However, Swedish drugmaker Meda saw shares skyrocket over 67 percent, after rival Mylan said it would acquire the firm in a $7.2 billion cash-and-stock deal.

Miners were once again be in focus amid low metal prices. Rio Tinto suffered a net loss of $866 million in 2015 and said it was scrapping its "progressive dividend policy". Shares were off 3.4 percent.

Other names in the sector were dragged down as well, with Boliden and Glencore off 16 and 6.2 percent respectively.

The gold price however has got support in recent days, last trading over 4 percent up, as investors flock to the precious metal as a safe haven.

Gold miner Randgold Resources and precious metals firm, Fresnillo both jumped over 7 and 5 percent respectively on Thursday.

European Union flags fly at the entrance of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
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