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Europe: Shares hit 11-week low after ECB minutes; Reckitt, Sodexo weigh

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[LONDON] European shares fell on Thursday to their lowest in 11 weeks after minutes from the ECB'S latest meeting showed the central bank had left the door open to scrapping its bond-buying pledge.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended the session 0.7 per cent lower, recovering some of its losses with all but three sectors closing in negative territory. Euro zone blue chips also hit an 11-week low, while Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.4 per cent.

"There was nothing in the (June ECB) press conference that suggested that they talked about curtailing QE. But in fact they did," said AFS analyst Arne Petimezas in Amsterdam.

A series of earnings updates were also in focus with Sodexo leading fallers and Reckitt Benckiser also weak after both companies cut their guidance.

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Reckitt was down 1.5 per cent, making it one of the biggest weights on the Stoxx. The UK consumer goods group cut its growth forecast after a global cyber attack last month disrupted business in multiple markets.

"We would not see weakness in the share price today as a buying opportunity. Reckitt's markets are likely to have remained sluggish, with peers signalling no pick up here," Investec said, cutting its price target on the stock.

Sodexo, the world's second-biggest catering services firm after Compass Group, also cut its sales growth goal following weaker-than-expected third quarter results, sending its stock down 6 per cent to a 14-week low.

Compass' shares fell nearly 2 per cent.

Some earning updates struck a more positive note.

Associated British Foods rose 2.6 per cent, among top gainers in Europe, after the company said its full-year outlook had marginally improved after a better-than-expected performance from its Primark clothing chain.

"The key divisional figure in this statement, as has become the norm with ABF, is Primark sales growth," Morgan Stanley said.

Banks were a bright spot, having been recently underpinned by talk of tightening monetary policy conditions. They were the top-gaining sector, up 0.7 per cent.

Italian lenders were the top performers, up 1.8 per cent following a series of deals in the last two weeks that have restored confidence in the sector's prospects.

Italy's economy minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, said there were no more "brushfires" threatening other banks after the government wound down two Veneto-based lenders last month in a deal that could cost the state up to 17 billion euros (S$26.85 billion).

Commerzbank also gained 3.3 per cent after a Bloomberg report said that buy-out firm Cerberus was considering buying a minority stake in the German lender through purchases on the market.

Stocks sensitive to a rise in interest rates, such as utilities, continued to weigh, with the sector down 0.8 per cent.

REUTERS

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