LONDON – The rebound in European stock markets over the past couple of days ground to a halt Thursday following a mixed batch of corporate earnings and further evidence of a sharp slowdown in the economy of the 17 countries that use the euro.
Over the past couple of days, markets have been buoyed by solid U.S. earnings, notably from Apple Inc., and an indication from Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke that the central bank was prepared to do more, if needed, to shore up the U.S. economy.
However, fairly downbeat updates from the likes of Banco Santander, Europe’s biggest bank by market capitalization, Deutsche Bank AG and AstraZeneca PLC deflated the mood.
A survey from the European Commission showing economic sentiment in the eurozone down more than expected in April added to the gloom. Its main indicator fell from 94.5 to 92.8– the consensus in the markets was for a far more modest decline to 94.
In recent weeks, there has been an increasing backlash against the austerity drive in many European countries amid worries that governments will be unable to deliver their debt-reduction plans as their economies tank.
“With political divisions opening up across Europe, pressure is building on Germany and the European Central Bank do more and rein back on the current austerity based approach,” said Michael Hewson, markets analyst at CMC Markets.
Given that uncertain backdrop, shares in Europe have given up a chunk of their gains earlier in the week.
Those concerns weighed heavy on Europe’s main markets as well as the euro, which was trading 0.1 percent lower at $1.3215.
Germany’s DAX was down 0.5 percent at 6,670 while the CAC-40 in France fell 0.7 percent to 5,725. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares outperformed its peers, though that was largely due to its big underperformance the previous day when official figures showed the country in recession – it was 0.1 percent higher at 5,724.
Wall Street was poised for modest falls at the open following a solid performance so far this week – both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures were 0.2 percent lower.
The focus in the U.S. will remain on the quarterly corporate earnings season, with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo., Starbucks and ExxonMobil among the raft of companies reporting.
Weekly jobless claims as well as the Chicago Fed’s survey of industry will also garner some interest from traders as they assess the state of the U.S. economic recovery, a day after the Fed said U.S. economic growth would pick up gradually and that it would stick with its plan to keep its key short-term interest rate near zero percent.
Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index closed slightly ahead at 9,561.83 as traders proceeded with caution ahead of the Bank of Japan’s policy-setting meeting Friday.
South Korea’s Kospi also zigzagged until finally setting 0.1 percent higher at 1,964.04. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng posted a 0.8 percent gain to 20,809.71. In mainland China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index edged 0.1 percent lower to 2,404.70.
Oil markets were fairly tepid, with benchmark oil for June delivery down 9 cents to $104.03 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.