Europe finishes lower after miners slip 3% on China data; Fed in focus

European stocks closed firmly in the red on Thursday, after weak China data triggered a slide in mining stocks, while investors digested the latest minutes release from the Federal Reserve.

China trade data weighs

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The pan-European STOXX 600 came off its lows, to close down 0.87 percent provisionally. The majority of sectors posted solid losses, with miners, insurers and banks all tumbling more than 2 percent each.

The U.K. FTSE 100 slipped 0.66 percent, while the French CAC and German DAX fell further, ending down 1.06 and 1.04 percent respectively.

The mining sector slumped around 3 percent on Thursday, as the price of copper fell sharply during the session. In Asia trade — where markets ended mixed to lowerChina's exports slipped close to 10 percent year-on-year in dollar-terms, and imports fell 1.9 percent from the year before.

Looking at the basic resources sector, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both fell more than 4 percent after Citigroup cut its outlook on both stocks from "neutral" to "sell". ArcelorMittal also ended sharply lower, after Goldman Sachs lowered its rating on the stock to "neutral" from "buy".

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Elsewhere in commodities, investors remained on edge over the volatility seen in the oil price, after OPEC reported that its oil production rose in September to its highest level seen in at least eight years, despite the oil cartel potentially planning to cut output.

At the market close prices rose however after U.S. government data showed the first rise in U.S. crude stockpiles in six weeks. Brent stood at $52.08 while U.S. crude hovered around $50.49.

Meanwhile, investors in Europe have been poring over the recent minutes release by the U.S. central bank. Despite the Fed choosing not to raise rates in September, three members of the Federal Open Market Committee dissented and called for a rate hike.

While China data shook up Asian markets, Fed fears continued to weigh on Wall Street also, which was trading sharply lower on Thursday.

Unilever in spat with Tesco

On the individual stock front, Unilever shares tumbled 3.4 percent despite the firm reporting a 3.2 percent rise in underlying sales in the third quarter. The negative sentiment towards the stock comes as Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket chain, pulled a number of Unilever products from its website over price increases. Tesco shares also closed down 3 percent.

The STOXX 600's best performer was that of wholesaler operator, Booker Group, after reporting that pre-tax profit for the first-half of the year rose 9 percent to £81 million ($98.8 million). Shares jumped 5.4 percent.

Staying with U.K. stocks, British homebuilders were posting solid gains after U.K. house prices rose for a second month in September, and inquiries from buyers picked up for the first time since February; Reuters reported. Persimmon, Bovis Homes and Hammerson all closed higher.

The Italian banks were back in the limelight on Thursday. Unicredit ended over 3.5 percent down after it sold a 20 percent stake in its online broker business FinecoBank in a move that raised 552 million euros ($618 million). Several other Italian banks also closed sharply lower, including Banco Popolare, Banca Popolare di Milano and Banca Popolare dell'Emilia Romagna.

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