Markets

European stocks close higher as investors monitor coronavirus developments; Wirecard down another 35%

Key Points
  • The 27 European Union governments kicked off negotiations Friday over a proposal for a 750 billion euro ($841 billion) recovery fund to tackle the Covid-19 crisis.
  • U.K. retail sales for May were down 13.1% year on year, significantly outstripping expectations of a 17.1% decline in a Reuters poll of analysts.
  • Borrowing in the U.K. surged to £103.7 billion ($128.9 billion) in the April-May period, figures revealed Friday. It means public sector debt surpassed GDP (gross domestic product) for the first time since 1963 as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes starkly apparent.

European markets closed higher on Friday afternoon as investors remained focused on new coronavirus spikes, economic data and the European Union's proposed fiscal stimulus.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 provisionally ended up around 0.6%, with most sectors in positive territory.

The 27 European Union governments kicked off negotiations Friday over a proposal for a 750 billion euro ($841 billion) recovery fund to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, but the stimulus plan has caused some division among EU member states.

Germany's Wirecard saw its plummeting stock recover slightly after the resignation on Friday of CEO Markus Braun, but ended the session more than 35% lower. The payments company's stock had plunged 60% on Thursday after auditor EY refused to sign off on its 2019 full-year accounts due to a missing $2.1 billion, and Wirecard said it may have fallen victim to "fraud of significant proportions."

Borrowing in the U.K. surged to £103.7 billion ($128.9 billion) in the April-May period, figures revealed Friday. It means public sector debt surpassed GDP (gross domestic product) for the first time since 1963 as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes starkly apparent.

On the data front, Germany's statistics office on Friday reported a 2.2% annual fall in inflation for May and a 0.4% decline from the previous month, slightly below expectations.

U.K. retail sales for May were down 13.1% year on year, significantly outstripping expectations of a 17.1% decline in a Reuters poll of analysts. On a monthly basis, retail sales were up 12% as lockdown measures eased slightly, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Investor focus had been on a resurgence of coronavirus cases in some parts of the world, with four U.S. states reporting a spike in new cases and hospitalizations amid attempts to reopen their economies. Meanwhile, a Chinese Center for Disease Control expert said Thursday that a recent outbreak in Beijing is now under control.

Stocks in Asia Pacific closed broadly higher, Friday with China's Shenzhen component adding more than 1.5% to lead gains.

The Bank of England on Thursday added another £100 billion to its quantitative easing program in a bid to shore up the U.K. economy amid the fallout from the coronavirus crisis, taking the total value of its Asset Purchase Facility (APF) to £745 billion.

The Central Bank of Russia on Friday cut interest rates by 100 basis points to 4.5%, their lowest level since the fall of the Soviet Union, as it looks to shore up an economy reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the top of the European blue chip index Friday, French telecoms provider Altice Europe jumped nearly 6% while casino operator Evolution Gaming climbed 5.7%.