European markets close lower after US retail sales disappoint

  • The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended down around 0.2 percent during mid-afternoon trade, with most sectors and major bourses in negative territory.
  • U.S. retail data for December spooked investors after scoring a big miss.
  • Lawmakers in the U.K. are debating next steps in the Brexit process.

European stocks slipped lower on Thursday after a flurry of earnings results was superseded by disappointing U.S. retail data.

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The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed provisionally 0.23 percent lower in trade after rallying earlier in the Thursday session.

Europe's industrials stocks led the gains initially, up more than 1 percent amid earnings news. France's Airbus was one of the top sectoral performers, after the company announced stronger-than-anticipated fourth-quarter results. Europe's largest aerospace group also said it was scrapping its flagship A380 plane. Shares of the Paris-listed stock rose more than 2.6 percent on the day.

Looking at individual stocks, Micro Focus – Britain's second largest listed tech firm – surged to the top of the European benchmark on Thursday after posting a better-than-expected decline in pro-forma revenue. The stock gained more than 12 percent by the end of trade.

Meanwhile, Germany's Gerresheimer was also among the top performers. The medical equipment maker said it was "back on the growth path" after reporting fourth-quarter results, prompting shares to advance by almost 10 percent.

Britain's Convatec slumped to the bottom of the index after the catheter and colostomy bag maker reported adjusted operating profit had slipped 6 percent in 2018. It said the risk of a no-deal Brexit had prompted the group to stockpile appropriately to deal with any potential supply disruptions. Shares of Convatec tanked more than 18 percent during the session.

Stateside, data released on Thursday showed that U.S. retail sales declined at their fastest pace since 2009 in December. That was enough to hurt stocks in Europe and the retail sector was down 0.63 percent following the news.

Back in the U.K., lawmakers are set to debate and vote on the next steps in the Brexit process later in the session.

It comes as Prime Minister Theresa May continues to try to get a deal through Parliament, with time running out before the country leaves the European Union next month.

Global trade

Market focus is largely attuned to global trade developments, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizier in China for high-level negotiations.

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that talks were "going along very well," with both sides trying to resolve a long-running dispute before a March 1 deadline.

Officials in Washington and Beijing had previously said they were hopeful a new round of trade talks, which began at the start of the week, could bring both sides closer to a comprehensive deal.

Meanwhile, Beijing reported stronger-than-anticipated trade data on Thursday, offering a welcome relief to investors concerned about a global economic downturn.

China reported exports advanced 9.1 percent in January on a year earlier, defying expectations, while imports slipped 1.5 percent.

In Asia, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares, excluding Japan, dipped 0.3 percent.