World News

European shares slide on weak earnings, China virus epidemic

By Medha Singh

(Reuters) – European shares fell for the first time in three sessions on Thursday on a slate of disappointing earnings updates, with investors also fretting over the economic impact of a virus epidemic in China that has now claimed 170 lives.

The pan-European STOXX 600 <.STOXX> fell 0.8% and was on track to log its worst week in nearly four months.

London-listed shares of Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L> were the biggest drag on the benchmark index, shedding 4.3% after the company’s quarterly profit halved. The wider energy subsector <.SXEP> fell 2.4%, also pressured by lower oil prices.

Global financial markets have seen a sharp sell-off this week as a jump in reported cases of people infected with the flu-like coronavirus raised fears of a pandemic and sparked concerns about an economic slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy. [MKTS/GLOB]

The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee is due to reconvene on Thursday to decide whether the virus constitutes a global emergency.

“At this stage as the number of cases are growing, (the selloff) is just a normal reaction in (anticipation) for what could be the final impact,” said Gilles Guibout, head of European equities strategies at AXA Investment Managers.

“Could the coronavirus be a black swan? Yes, maybe for the (companies) most exposed to the China segment.”

European miners <.SXPP> slid 0.7% on Thursday on growth concerns in the world’s top metals consumer.

Losses in flight operators such as British Airways <ICAG.L>, Germany’s Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> and Air France <AIRF.PA> dragged the travel and leisure sector <.SXTP> down 0.8% as airlines increasingly suspended or scaled back flights to China.

Shares of watchmaker Swatch Group <UHR.S> slipped 4.7% as it reported a marked drop in annual sales and forecast continuing challenges in its key Hong Kong market this year.

Other luxury brands – LVMH <LVMH.PA>, Hermes <HRMS.PA>, Gucci owner Kering <PRTP.PA>, Moncler <MONC.MI>, Burberry <BRBY.L> – also slipped between 0.8% to 1.8%.

German-Spanish turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa <SGREN.MC> tumbled 7.8% and was on course for its worst day in six months after cutting its 2020 profitability target for a second time in three months.

On a bright note, Sweden’s H&M <HMb.ST> climbed 9.5% after delivering its first increase in annual profit since 2015, while Finnish engineering group Wartsila <WRT1V.HE> jumped 6.4% as it raised its quarterly demand outlook.

Investor attention now shifts to the Bank of England’s interest rate decision due later in the day, with expectations of the first rate cut in more than three years standing at nearly 50%.

(Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)