European markets close flat after May survives no-confidence vote; ITV shares dive 6%

Key Points
  • European stocks moved lower Thursday amid heightened political uncertainty in the U.K. and ongoing concerns over China's cooling economy.

European stocks edged marginally higher Thursday afternoon, amid heightened political uncertainty in the U.K. and ongoing concerns over China's cooling economy.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 provisionally rose 0.06 percent by the close of trade but most major bourses struggled to leave negative territory.

Europe's banking index was the worst performer Thursday, down 1.2 percent amid earnings news. French bank Societe Generale led the losses, shortly after it reported fourth-quarter results would be negatively impacted by tough market conditions. Shares of the Paris-listed stock slipped more than 6.1 percent on the news.

Looking at individual stocks, Britain's Sage surged towards the top of the European benchmark. It comes after the software company maintained its full-year guidance on Thursday, adding it had been encouraged by a strong start to 2019. Shares of the group rose over 5.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Britain's ITV slumped to the bottom of the index after Bank of America Merrill Lynch slashed its stock recommendation to "underperform" from "buy." Shares of the London-listed media company fell more than 6.1 percent on the news.

On the data front, a final reading of euro zone inflation confirmed preliminary estimates released earlier in January. The final figures showed inflation slowed in December to 1.6 percent on the year, while core indicators remained at stable low levels.

The figures published Thursday by the European Union's statistics office show inflation has fallen away from the European Central Bank target of a rate below, but close to, 2 percent. That could complicate the central bank's path for a possible interest rate hike over the coming months.

Brexit 'Plan B'

Market focus is largely attuned to the latest Brexit developments, after Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly won a no-confidence vote late Wednesday.

May defeated the parliamentary motion by a margin of 19 votes.

Shortly after securing the votes needed to avoid a general election, May urged other party leaders to hold cross-party talks in an effort to break the current deadlock on a Brexit divorce deal.

An outline for a so-called "Plan B" is due by Monday, with market participants widely expecting Westminster to push for an extension of Article 50 past March 29.

In Asia, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares, excluding Japan, edged 0.2 percent higher on Thursday.

By Europe's close, U.S. stocks were still open for trade and mildly higher on average.