European stocks follow Wall Street to close lower as trade war fears escalate

Key Points
  • The pan-European Stoxx 600 was down 0.9 percent.
  • Investors were shaken by heightened fears of a trade war.

European equities closed sharply lower on Friday, as heightened fears of a trade war shook global markets.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 was down 0.9 percent, as the index followed in the footsteps of loss in the U.S.

Europe's autos led the losses, off by 1.9 percent amid escalating concerns of a tit-for-tat trade war. President Donald Trump moved towards long-promised anti-China charges on Thursday, triggering a stern response from Beijing.

In individual stocks, shares of Indivior tanked 21 percent shortly after the opening bell after a U.S. court ruled in favor of a competitor. However, the maker of opioid addiction treatment Suboxone Film quickly recovered most of its losses after the group said it would fight the ruling. Shares of Indivior were 6.2 percent lower.

Next was a rare gainer on the Stoxx 600, surging to the top of the European benchmark after optimistic comments from the British clothing chain's CEO Simon Wolfson. The company reported an 8 percent fall in annual profit in 2017, saying it was the most challenging year the company had faced in 25 years. Nonetheless, despite projecting a third consecutive decline this year, its shares were over more than 7.6.

GlaxoSmithKline was also trading higher after it pulled out of the bidding for Pfizer's consumer health business. The company followed hot on the heels of Reckitt Benckiser, which withdrew its interest earlier in the week. Shares of GlaxoSmithKline were up almost 3.3 percent on the news.

Trade war fears

On Wall Street, stocks fell as investors mulled over Beijing's response to U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

Trump's memorandum proposing charges on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese products was met with China warning of retaliatory tariffs targeting $3 billion of U.S. goods. Chinese authorities said they could hit 128 U.S. products with tariffs in response.

Trump said the taxes were intended to penalize China for allegedly stealing Washington's intellectual property.

The U.S. president also announced exemptions for the European Union and six other countries, at least temporarily, from the steel and aluminum tariffs.

In Italy, political parties looked to secure a parliamentary deal on Friday, but a new government is far from being put together after the inconclusive election earlier this month. Italy's parliament will open for the first time since the March 4 vote.

European leaders continued their second day of meetings in Brussels.