[MILAN] European shares were sharply lower on Thursday as investors fretted over the risks to the region's economic recovery from a diesel car pollution scandal at Volkswagen.
The declines were set to bring the eurozone's blue-chip index to its lowest level in 2015 and came as concerns about global growth and apprehension about a speech by US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen sent Wall Street into the red.
The eurozone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index fell 2.5 per cent to 3.003 points and the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 2.4 per cent.
European shares corrected sharply this summer after a rout in Chinese markets sent them to their lowest since January. A timid rebound followed but was soon erased by uncertainty over the Fed's rate policy and now the car emissions scandal.
"There is no time for investors to catch their breath in this market. The auto story is causing a lot of pain," said Andrea Cuturi, Partner at asset manager Anthilia Capital.
"Volkswagen is just a component, albeit important, of Germany's GDP (gross domestic product) and I believe it won't derail the recovery. But if markets stay at these levels for a few more days I would close my positions," he said.
The Volkswagen emissions scandal has rocked Germany's business and political establishment and analysts warn the crisis at the car maker could develop into the biggest threat to Europe's largest economy.
The Euro STOXX Auto & Parts index fell 3.8 per cent, reversing initial gains, amid talk emission problems might not be confined to Volkswagen, which has admitted to having deceived US regulators about how much its diesel cars pollute. This week the index has lost around 13 per cent, roughly 40 billion euros in market value.
Germany's transport minister said on Thursday emissions manipulations by Volkswagen took place in Europe, not just in the United States, and that random tests would be conducted on cars made by other manufacturers.
BWM dropped 6.1 per cent after a report in German magazine Auto Bild said some of its diesel cars were found to exceed emissions standards. BWM said there had been no manipulation at the group and it was unaware of tests cited by Auto Bild.
"BMW's share price reactions shows how nervous the investment community is with respect to diesel engines, compliance and future regulation," said Arndt Ellinghorst, head of Automotive Research at Evercore ISI.
"Thank you VW," he added.
However, Volkswagen shares - which had closed up 5.2 per cent on Wednesday - advanced 0.4 per cent as investors took the resignation of CEO Martin Winterkorn as a sign the company would tackle the problem. "They've kicked out the CEO. The company and its shares should be able to stabilise," said Clairinvest fund manager Ion-Marc Valahu. Yet the stock remained down by nearly 30 per cent since the scandal emerged last weekend.
The European basic resources index was down 2.8 per cent while the oil & gas index fell 1.9 per cent, reflecting concerns about economic weakness in China and elsewhere.
Shares in Schindler fell 7 per cent after two Chinese managers of the elevator company were detained for questioning, in a case linked to possible embezzlement and acceptance of bribes.
Shares in Monte dei Paschi rose 4.6 per cent after it reached a settlement with Japan's Nomura to close a loss-making derivative trade, boosting the Italian lender's chances of finding a buyer.