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European shares slide to two-week low on hawkish Fed comments, geopolitical worries

European shares slide to two-week low on hawkish Fed comments, geopolitical worries

By Johann M Cherian and Ozan Ergenay

(Reuters) – European stocks fell to a more than two-week low on Friday, tracking a global skittishness in sentiment following hawkish comments from some U.S. Federal Reserve officials and a spike in tensions in the Middle East.

The continent-wide STOXX 600 fell 1.2%, on track for its worst day since mid-October 2023.

Benchmark indexes across all major European economies such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain also fell over 1% each.

Sparking caution on market expectations for an imminent rate cut, U.S. Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said if inflation continued to stall, an interest rate reduction may not be required by year-end.

However, trader bets were still largely pointing towards the first interest rate cut in June by the European Central Bank and the Fed. [0#ECBWATCH] [0#FEDWATCH]

“Investor expectations for rate hikes haven’t changed that much on the back Kashkari’s comments… it really is just noise and investors should focus on what the Fed has been guiding at,” said Thomas Gehlen, senior market strategist at SG Kleinwort Hambros.

While the European economy lagged the U.S., European equities are much more attractively valued than the U.S., he added.

Optimism around a rate reduction by the ECB and the Fed has been the primary driver for gains in most developed market equities since late 2023, but with Friday’s declines, the STOXX 600 is bracing for its worst week since mid-October 2023.

Adding to the gloom, travel and leisure stocks led sectoral declines with a 1.8% drop, hurt by a jump in Brent crude prices on higher risk sentiment regarding supply disruption following escalating geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.

Shares of SoftwareOne slid 1.1% after it announced all proxy advisors were now against the complete replacement of the Swiss firm’s board of directors.

Holcim dropped 1.5% after the Swiss building materials company said it will buy Tensolite, which makes and distributes pre-cast concrete systems in South America.

Bureau Veritas lost 2.5% after French investment firm Wendel said it sold 9% of shares in the business support company.

Shell said it expects significantly lower results from its liquefied natural gas trading business in the first quarter of 2024 from the previous three months. However, its shares were flat due to higher oil prices.

Meanwhile, data showed Eurozone retail sales dropped 0.7% on an annual basis, less than the 1.3% decline expected by economists polled by Reuters.

Focus will now shift to a crucial March U.S. jobs report, due later in the day.

 

(This story has been corrected to fix analyst’s company name to ‘SG Kleinwort Hambros’ from ‘Kleinwort Hambros,’ in paragraph 6)

 

(Reporting by Johann M Cherian and Ozan Ergenay; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Janane Venkatraman)

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