European shares eke out gains; on track for worst month in years

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares closed flat to slightly higher on Friday, recouping earlier heavy losses as comments from an influential U.S. policymaker soothed some concerns about rising borrowing costs and the threat of a U.S. government shutdown.

The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

The pan-European STOXX 600 .STOXX index closed up 0.03 percent, after testing lows not seen since November 2016 earlier in the session.

Still the index was on track for its worst month since 2016 amid lingering worries about slowing corporate earnings and economic growth.

Comments from New York Fed President John Williams that the Federal Reserve is open to reassessing its views helped ease investors’ worries that the central bank’s plans for interest rate hikes next year even as the world’s top economy shows signs of slowing.

“It has been a rough week for equities as investors are worried about the state of the global economy, but comments from John Williams, a U.S. central banker, have eased concerns a little,” said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

Fears the the Fed could make a policy mistake by sticking to plans to raise rates in 2019 have driven investors to abandon stocks and pile into bonds, Bank of America Merrill Lynch strategists said on Friday.

On the bright side, Delivery Hero DHER.DE, the world's biggest online food delivery firm, saw its shares surge 10 percent after announcing the sale of its German operations to Netherlands-based

The latter also jumped 28 percent, on track for one of its biggest ever one-day gains. Other stocks of Europe’s listed food-delivery companies rose, with rival Just Eat adding 3 percent.

Still on the merger and acquisition front, France's Spie SPIE.PA was also one of the session's few winners, rising 6.1 percent after announcing the sale of a German subsidiary.

Adding gloom to the European banking sector, which has fallen 28.5 percent so far in 2018, Danske Bank DANSKE.CO, at the center of an international investigation into alleged money laundering, cut its 2018 outlook for the second time this year. The Danish lender was down 0.8 percent.

Refinitiv data showed on Friday that European equity raising slowed sharply in 2018, making it the biggest drag on falling global activity as political uncertainty and growth concerns made it harder to persuade investors to buy stock.

Reporting by Julien Ponthus and Josephine Mason; editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Roche