Europe closes down 1%; Italian banks weigh; oil slips; M&S up 3%

European equities closed in the red on Thursday, as investors digested the latest set of minutes from the European Central Bank and eyed the fluctuation in oil prices.

Italian banks fall


The pan-European STOXX 600 closed down 0.95 percent provisionally. Major bourses all posted losses, with most sectors finishing in negative territory. Banks were one of the major underperformers, especially Italian lenders like Ubi Banca, Banco Popolare, BMPS and Unicredit.

Investors pored over the details from the ECB Governing Council's latest meeting, with the council saying the introduction of negative interest rates had been "broadly" beneficial for banks in the euro zone. The ECB did however express caution over cutting the deposit facility rate further, as it "could unduly increase the pressure on banks' profitability" and impact the sector's level of stability.

This came after comments from individual ECB members in the morning session, such as Executive Board Member Peter Praet, who talked down the prospect of "helicopter money" in the euro zone.

Oil weighs

In the U.S., meanwhile, stocks traded lower Thursday at Europe's close with concerns about global growth and the effectiveness of central bank policy.

On the oil front, both Brent and U.S. crude came under renewed pressure despite earlier gains. Prices have been trading around $38.96 and $36.98 respectively. Oil stocks however remained mixed in Europe, with Subsea 7 up some 1 percent.

"With oil on the back foot, risk-aversion seems to be every much the order of the day and with gold being pushed back into favor," Tony Cross, a market analyst at Trustnet Direct, said in an afternoon note.

M&S shares higher

In individual stock news, U.K. retailer Marks and Spencer reported that overall group sales were up 1.9 percent for its fourth quarter, with a solid performance in its food division. Shares closed up 3 percent.

Numericable-SFR shares posted solid gains after the telecoms unit announced that it had successfully placed $5.19 billion of 10-year senior secured notes with institutional investors. Its parent Altice, jumped even higher, up some 1 percent by the close.

Health care outperformed other sectors following the recent merger termination between Pfizer and Allergan. European health care stocks saw a pick-up on talk of other consolidation activity in the sector. AstraZeneca and Shire both posted solid gains.

Sitting near the bottom of the benchmarks was publisher Pearson. Shares tanked some 5 percent as its stock was going ex-dividend on Thursday. Daimler and Skanska also fell to the bottom of benchmarks, off more than 4.7 percent and 8.6 percent respectively, as their ex-dividend dates were due.

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