Europe Markets

Europe stocks close slightly lower despite report of US-China trade breakthrough

Key Points
  • Investors monitor news of progress in U.S.-Sino trade negotiations.
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May offers to resign if her Brexit deal is finally passed by Parliament.
  • Swedbank shares halted as the embattled lender faces a probe into alleged money laundering.

European shares traded slightly lower on average Thursday as growth fears offset substantial gains on trade developments.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index hovered around the flat-line in afternoon trade, closing provisionally 0.11 percent lower.

Investors monitored news of progress in U.S.-Sino trade negotiations. A Reuters report said China has offered "unprecedented" proposals to allay U.S. concerns over forced technology transfers. Officials from both countries are due to meet for a fresh round of discussions Thursday.

But equities were under pressure amid jitters over a slowdown in economic growth. Bond markets have in the past week signaled a U.S. recession may be coming, with the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield recently falling below that of the 3-month bill, in what is known as a yield curve inversion.

Looking at individual stocks, Evotec climbed near the top of the pan-European benchmark after it gave a positive outlook for 2019. The biotechnology firm said it saw adjusted earnings improving by 10 percent this year. Shares rose by 3.49 percent.

A board reshuffle at online delivery group Ocado Group was welcomed by investors. John Martin and Claudia Arnery will join from June this year. Shares rose 5.44 percent over the course of the day.

Bayer stock fell after a U.S. jury said the pharmaceuticals giant should pay a claimant $80 million after allegations its glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused his cancer. Shares of the company dropped more than 1 percent but pared almost all losses by the close.

Swedbank was among the biggest fallers as the embattled lender faces a probe into alleged money laundering. The firm dismissed its CEO Birgitte Bonnesen on Thursday morning. The stock fell 7.78 percent.

Back in Europe, the fate of Brexit looked as uncertain as ever. British Prime Minister Theresa May offered to resign if her twice-defeated withdrawal deal was finally passed by Parliament, in a move that failed to impress some hardline Brexiteers and Northern Ireland's DUP party.

Meanwhile, U.K. lawmakers voted on a number of Brexit alternatives overnight, none of which gained majority support, producing further doubt as to whether Britain will manage to break an impasse to get a Brexit agreement through Parliament.