European shares sink to lowest in six weeks, China woes loom large

By Shashwat Chauhan and Ankika Biswas

(Reuters) -European shares sank to their lowest level in six weeks on Friday, dragged down by financials and healthcare as concern over interest rates staying higher for longer globally and China’s dwindling growth prospects hit investor sentiment.

The pan-European STOXX 600 closed 0.6% lower, falling for the fourth straight session and sinking to its lowest since July 7.

Surging bond yields have pressured equities this week, with the STOXX 600 notching a weekly fall of more than 2%.

“Equity market valuations are coming under some pressure with bond yields hitting new multi-year highs,” said Kiran Ganesh, global head of investment communications in the UBS Chief Investment Office.

Further muddying China’s economic outlook, embattled developer China Evergrande Group filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection, while a package of measures by China’s securities regulator to revive a sinking stock market failed to boost investor confidence in light of a sluggish economy.

China-exposed luxury heavyweights LVMH, Kering and Hermes fell by 0.7% to 1.1% on heightened concerns over dwindling demand from the world’s second-largest economy.

Europe’s largest bank HSBC and UK-based Prudential, which also do business in China, fell 1.4% and 3.2% respectively, and Barclays trimmed its price target on the latter.

Weighing on the healthcare sector was an over 1% decline in Novo Nordisk, AstraZeneca and Roche Holding each.

European miners, who are also affected by developments in China, lost 1.5%.

Meanwhile, data showed euro zone inflation slowed further and even underlying price pressures appeared to have peaked, easing pressure on the European Central Bank to keep raising rates after its fastest rate-hike cycle on record.

“Maybe it’s too early to declare victory over inflation… what markets are telling is that the economy is proving to be resilient and it’s unlikely that central banks are going to have to cut rates next year because the economy should still be in decent shape,” Ganesh said.

UK’s blue-chip FTSE 100 fell 0.7% after data showed British retail sales slumped more sharply than expected in July.

Dutch payments processor Adyen NV hit a more than three-year low, down 2.9%, adding to Thursday’s record loss after weak earnings raised concerns about its valuations and a price war grew.

Retailers fell 1.2% as H&M lost 1.7% a day after Reuters reported that the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer has decided to gradually stop sourcing products from Myanmar.

Food retailer Dino Polska SA dropped 8.4%, the biggest faller in the STOXX 600, after issuing its second-quarter results.

A report showed the ECB is preparing to send a letter to Italy raising objections about the government’s windfall tax on banks’ profits.

(Reporting by Shashwat Chauhan and Ankika Biswas in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips, Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Hugh Lawson)