LONDON (Reuters) - Fears over higher global barriers to trade sent European stocks to 11-week lows on Wednesday, with little other company and economic news to provide relief from rising protectionism which has hit equity markets hard.
Europe’s falls came after Asian stocks sold off violently on trade fears, with Chinese blue-chips hitting a 13-month low.
The pan-European STOXX 600 extended its opening fall to 0.6 percent by 0830 GMT, hitting its lowest level since April 12 as financials and industrials stocks suffered.
The banks sector .SX7P was the worst-performing, down 1.4 percent as investors worried about the impact of protectionism on the economy and a flattening yield curve on banks’ margins.
Bank shares fell to their lowest since December 2016 while the autos sector, a prominent target of higher U.S. tariffs, neared a 10-month low.
“This is for sure an environment in which the market has been able to ignore protectionist concerns, but I believe it’s escalated to the point where it’s hard to ignore now,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco.
Energy stocks .SXEP helped limit losses, rising 1 percent as crude prices climbed on supply disruption in Canada and after U.S. officials told importers to stop buying Iranian crude from November. [nL4N1TT1AJ]
Shares in takeover target IWG (IWG.L), the British workspace firm, fell 4.3 percent after it warned on profit, blaming the cost of opening new space and a weak performance in Britain.
Traders said the takeover interest from private equity firms Terra Firma and TDR Capital among others were supporting the stock despite the profit warning.
With economic and company news relatively thin on the ground, broker recommendations also drove some big moves.
Imerys (IMTP.PA) shares rose 3.8 percent after analysts at Exane BNP Paribas upgraded the mineral extracting and processing company to “outperform” from “neutral”.
Shares in French oil storage and distribution company Rubis (RUBF.PA) fell 5.5 percent after Berenberg cut the stock to “hold” from “buy, saying weakness in the oil storage business is likely to persist in the short- to medium-term.
Czech utility CEZ (CEZP.PR) traded ex-dividend, down 5.3 percent.
Overall, investors have been pulling billions out of European stocks and shifting into U.S. stocks in recent weeks as trade tensions ratcheted up.
A global investor confidence index by State Street dropped in June, with the decline in sentiment largely driven by a significant fall in European investors’ confidence.
“Right now the environment is more positive for U.S. stocks but that could change fairly quickly,” said Invesco’s Hooper, adding: “One of the key themes this year is rotation of leadership.”
Analysts have been upgrading their earnings expectations for European stocks in the past weeks despite building trade tensions.
Reporting by Helen Reid; Editing by Keith Weir