Banks Send Euro Shares to Lowest Close Since 2005

European shares fell to their lowest close since October 2005 on Thursday, with banks the heaviest-weighted losers after a bearish note from Goldman Sachs reignited fears of further losses in the sector.

The FTSEurofirst 300 closed down 2.5 percent at 1,197.02 points, suffering its worst one-day percentage fall since mid-March.

Goldman Sachs downgraded U.S. brokerages to neutral and added Citigroup to its "conviction sell" list, forecasting more writedowns.

"We see multiple headwinds for Citigroup including additional write-downs, higher consumer provisions as a result of a rapidly deteriorating consumer credit trends, and the potential for additional capital raises, dividend cuts, or asset sales," Goldman said, estimating that Citigroup would take an additional $8.9 billion in net writedowns in the second quarter.

Dutch-Belgian bank Fortis was the biggest percentage loser in Europe, ending 19 percent lower after saying it would shore up its balance sheet with measures worth over 8 billion euros, including scrapping its interim dividend and issuing new shares.

A statement by Chinese shareholder Ping An Insurance that it is planning to buy 5 percent of the shares to maintain its holding failed to support the stock.

Banks in general tracked U.S. losses with Barclays shedding 5.7 percent, Credit Suisse down 4 percent and Deutsche Bank down 3.3 percent.

"There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty around in the entire financial services sector because we don't really understand what they are actually holding and what they are not holding," Octavio Marenzi, head of financial services consultancy Celent said from Paris, referring to Goldman's comments on Citigroup.

"I am not sure how they have come to their conclusions but when you see what happened to Bear Stearns -- 48 hours before the collapse things seemed okay -- so when people are valuing the sector now they prefer to err on the side of caution," Marenzi added.

Germany's Hypo Real Estate fell 7.3 percent after U.S. private equity investor JC Flowers finalised the acquisition of a 24.9 percent stake in the company, Auto stocks were also heavy decliners, with the DJStoxx European Auto index down 4 percent.

Chrysler denied market rumours that it was facing a cash crunch or that it had been driven to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and a disappointing outlook from Goodyear also weighed on European peers Michelin, down 6.5 percent, and Continental AG, down 4.7 percent.

BMW fell 4.2 percent, Renault was down 5.7 percent and Daimler fell 3.3 percent.

Among rare gainers was paper maker Stora Enso, which rose 2.5 percent after Finland said it would compensate the sector for a hike in wood tariffs.