European stocks closed lower on Thursday as fears of a recession rose ahead of a key speech from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed provisionally down 0.5%, with the majority of sectors and major bourses tipping into negative territory.
European markets started the session in the red after the widely watched 2-year-10-year U.S. yield curve inverted for the second time in two weeks. The yield curve, often monitored as precursor for recession, flattened and then briefly inverted Wednesday after the release of minutes from the latest meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).
The main part of the yield curve inverted once again on Thursday, its third trigger of the recession indicator in less than two weeks. U.S. stocks fell as a result, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumping and the Nasdaq and S&P 500 indexes also in the red. Market players are looking ahead to a speech from Fed chief Powell at Jackson Hole, which is due to take place on Friday.
Back in Europe, minutes from a July 25 meeting, published Thursday, showed ECB policymakers suggesting that a combination of measures may be needed to prop up the euro zone economy, with recent indicators painting a bleak picture of the outlook.
ECB President Mario Draghi has hinted heavily at more stimulus as early as September, with growth and inflation on a steady decline and economic data weakening.
In foreign exchange markets, comments from German Chancellor Angela Merkel caused a spike in the British pound on Thursday. Europe's most powerful leader had suggested a solution to the Irish backstop — a key sticking point in Brexit negotiations — could be found before a October 31 deadline. Sterling jumped 0.9% versus the dollar to $1.2235.
In terms of economic data, euro zone business growth was shown to have improved in August, with services activity accelerating and manufacturing contracting at a slower pace. However, trade war fears knocked future expectations to a six-year low. Euro zone PMI climbed in August to 51.8 from 51.5 in July, exceeding analyst expectations. France's composite PMI rose to 52.7 points from 51.9 in July, also beating forecasts, while Germany's data was not quite as strong, the composite coming in at 51.4, but still surpassed expectations.
Shares of London-listed NMC Health were 18.6% higher, having earlier risen by as much as 42%, after Reuters also reported that two groups, one backed by China's Fosun, had made competing offers for a 40% stake in the United Arab Emirates-based company.
Danish hospital equipment maker Ambu pared early losses to fall 15.5%, still the worst performing stock on the European blue chip index, after its interim third-quarter report and a decision to invest further in a direct sales organization for pulmonology in the U.S.