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European markets close lower amid weak earnings and economic data

Key Points
  • The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed slightly lower on Thursday, with most sectors and major bourses in negative territory.
  • Europe's banking index fell 1.7 percent amid reports of suspected wrongdoing.
  • Factories across the euro zone unexpectedly fell into reverse this month, official surveys showed Thursday, amid heightened trade tensions and ongoing problems in the autos sector.

European stocks closed lower on Thursday after a flurry of poorly received corporate earnings reports.

European Markets: FTSE, GDAXI, FCHI, IBEX

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed provisionally down 0.35 percent during by the closing bell, with most sectors in negative territory.

Europe's banking sector led Thursday's losses, fell almost 1.8 percent amid reports of suspected wrongdoing. Sweden's financial authority said Thursday that allegations made in a media report linking Swedbank to a regional money laundering scandal were "very serious." It added that the scandal, which involves Danske Bank, would be included in its ongoing supervisory activities.

Shares of Swedbank and Dankse Bank tumbled more than 9 percent and 4 percent respectively on the news.

Elsewhere in the sector, Barclays announced an annual profit of 3.5 billion pounds ($4.56 billion) on Thursday, which came in below expectations. The bank also said it would set aside 150 million pounds as a provision against Brexit-induced losses. Shares of the London-listed stock edged slightly lower during the session.

Danish drug company Genmab surged to the top of the European benchmark. The Copenhagen-listed stock reported stronger-than-expected results on Thursday, prompting shares to jump more than 6 percent.

Sticking in Denmark, Moller-Maersk tumbled to the bottom of the index. The world's largest shipping firm reported fourth-quarter earnings in line with expectations on Thursday, but warned a long-running trade conflict between the world's two largest economies could hamper growth in 2019. Shares of the firm tanked 10 percent percent on the news.

On the data front, factories across the euro zone unexpectedly fell into reverse this month, official surveys showed Thursday, amid heightened trade tensions and ongoing problems in the autos sector. The flash manufacturing PMI slipped to 49.2 this month, its lowest level since mid-2013 and significantly below the 50-mark that separates growth and contraction.

Meanwhile, IHS Markit's flash composite PMI, which is seen as a barometer to economic health, rose to 51.4 in February, from a final reading of 51.0 last month.

Johnson & Johnson under fire

U.S. stocks were lower on Thursday, pressured by weak economic data and a decline in health care shares. The health care sector fell in value after Johnson & Johnson revealed it had received subpoenas from U.S. regulators relating to alleged asbestos contamination in its baby powder.

Market focus was also largely attuned to global trade developments, after U.S. and Chinese officials reportedly started to outline commitments in principle on the stickiest issues in their long-running trade dispute.

President Donald Trump has suggested he might be willing to extend the March 1 deadline for a deal, which would stop an immediate increase in tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to 25 percent from 10 percent.