European shares ended Thursday’s session little changed, with focus returned to the near-term economic implications of the Covid-19 pandemic as Germany extended coronavirus restrictions and the UK government said more than a third of its population would still face tough limitations at the end of a national lockdown.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 index ended down 0.1 per cent, with gains in tech and healthcare offset by declines in automobile and energy shares.
The Iseq index also closed down 0.1 per cent, giving back a fraction of the strong rally in the past month that had seen the benchmark creep into positive territory for the year as a whole.
Banking stocks were on offer, with AIB down 1.4 per cent at €1.48 and Bank of Ireland off 4.2 per cent at €1.48, as sector follows also kept a cautious eye on critical late-stage talks between the EU and UK on a post-Brexit trade agreement.
Building materials giant CRH, which reported quarterly earnings this week, slid 2.7 per cent, though Paddy Power owner Flutter Entertainment stood out as a bright feature, gaining 3.6 per cent to €156.
The blue-chip FTSE 100 index slipped 0.4 per cent, with financial and material stocks weighing the most, while the domestically focussed mid-cap FTSE 250 lost 0.9 per cent, ending at a nine-day low.
UK finance minister Rishi Sunak’s grim forecast on Wednesday that the nation was set for its worst annual economic contraction in more than 300 years due to the pandemic also continued to weigh on sentiment.
“There is a tug of war between the short-term uncertainty, what is going to be a tough winter from an economic standpoint and the potential for a much stronger and sustained recovery, if we get mass vaccination and the pandemic is brought under control at some point next year,” said Emmanuel Cau, head of European equity strategy at Barclays.
While positive vaccine-related headlines have helped UK stocks gain this month, they have still underperformed global peers due to uncertainty over Brexit negotiations.
Among individual movers, homebuilder Persimmon and fund manager Intermediate Capital Group bottomed out the blue-chip index.
Retail banker Virgin Money UK was among the biggest weights on the mid-cap index, dropping for a second straight day after reporting a 77 per cent drop in its annual profit.
Shares of soft drinks maker Britvic rose 1.4 per cent despite reporting how the coronavirus pandemic had hit demand in the 12 months to the end of September.
Shares of AstraZeneca slipped 0.7 per cent after the drugs group’s chief executive said it is likely to run an additional global trial to assess the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine, after questions over the results from its late-stage study.
Germany’s blue-chip DAX ended flat while France’s benchmark CAC 40 erased gains to end 0.1 per cent lower after a survey showed consumer confidence in the country fell to a two-year low in November.
Shares of Remy Cointreau slipped nearly 1.8 per cent after the French spirits group said net profit for the first half of fiscal 2021 fell, though it expects a recovery in the second half.
Spanish energy group Repsol slid 3.5 per cent after the company said it will reduce its dividend next year after outlining plans to wind down the search for oil and expand its renewable capacity fivefold during the next decade.
The company, which was the first oil major to set a net-zero emissions target a year ago, will put its projects into “harvest mode” as it refocuses on higher-value oil production in fewer countries. Repsol expects to start growing the payment again from 2023.
Financial markets in the US remained closed on Thursday as traders and investors enjoyed Thanksgiving Day.
-Additional reporting, Reuters