Europe Markets

European stocks close lower; FTSE MIB falls after reports Italy could cut 2019 GDP forecast

Key Points
  • The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended the session 0.3 percent lower, with sectors and major bourses mostly in negative territory.
  • U.K. lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would force Prime Minister Theresa May to ask for a Brexit delay.
  • Italy's FTSE MIB index slipped 0.2 percent after Bloomberg reported the government of the euro zone's third-largest economy could soon cut its gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to 0.1 percent this year, down from a 1 percent expansion forecast in December.

European stocks closed lower on Thursday, as traders monitored developments from ongoing U.S.-China trade talks.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index ended the session 0.3 percent lower, with sectors and major bourses mostly in negative territory.

Italy's FTSE MIB index slipped 0.2 percent after Bloomberg reported the government of the euro zone's third-largest economy could soon cut its gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to 0.1 percent this year, down from a 1 percent expansion forecast in December.

Basic resources stocks — with their heavy exposure to China — were the worst performers, trading 1.3 percent lower at the closing bell.

Looking at individual stocks, UDG Healthcare surged toward the top of the European benchmark. It comes after Barclays upgraded its stock recommendation to "overweight" from "equal weight." Shares of the Irish health firm rose 4.5 percent.

Commerzbank also rose after a report said Italian lender UniCredit was planning a rival bid for the bank in the event that merger talks with Deutsche Bank break down. Shares of Germany's second-largest bank climbed 2.8 percent in afternoon trade.

France's Casino Guichard saw a second day of losses, with shares dipping more than 3 percent after Morgan Stanley cut its stock recommendation to "underweight" from "equal weight."

Meanwhile, German factory orders fell 4.2 percent in February, official data showed, marking their sharpest fall since January 2017.

US-China trade talks

Market players are watching the latest developments in discussions between U.S. and Chinese officials over the two countries' protracted trade dispute.

White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow said Wednesday that Washington and Beijing had made "good headway" toward a trade agreement. According to Bloomberg, China will have until 2025 to meet commitments on commodity purchases and allow American firms to wholly own Chinese enterprises under the deal.

President Donald Trump is due to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Washington on Thursday.

Elsewhere, Brexit is another area of focus for investors. U.K. lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would force Prime Minister Theresa May to ask for a Brexit delay to prevent Britain from crashing out of the European Union on April 12 without a deal.