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[MILAN] European equities slumped to a 13-month trough on Thursday, with the automobile sector leading the market lower as Renault tumbled following inspections at three of its sites in an emissions probe.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index ended 1.5 per cent weaker at 1,334.36 points after falling as far as 1,309.74, its lowest level since December 2014.
However, the index closed off its intra-day lows after a recovery in crude oil and metals prices boosted commodities-related stocks. Shares in miner Anglo American jumped more than 13 percent.
Shares in the French carmaker Renault fell 10.3 per cent, the biggest decliner in the index, after falling more than 20 percent earlier in the day. That wiped billions of dollars off its market value, in an echo of the scandal engulfing German rival Volkswagen. "It was almost inevitable that someone else would fall under the eye of investigators, it's just surprising it has taken this long," IG analyst Chris Beauchamp said. "There might be a small bounce in Renault in coming days, but as with Volkswagen, the investment case seems to have disappeared for now." Renault said investigations to date had found "no evidence of a defeat device equipping Renault vehicles", in a reference to a type of software program Volkswagen was found to have used by US investigators.
Volkswagen admitted last year to using software to conceal the level of toxic emissions from some of its diesel vehicles in the United States. That prompted investigations across several countries into Volkswagen, but also into other automobile manufacturers to ensure they have abided by regulations. "It's hard to believe that VW would have been the only one to have rigged emissions testing," said Clairinvest fund manager Ion-Marc Valahu. "I sold out of European car stocks at the end of last year and the beginning of this month after they had rallied, and I am not planning to get back into the sector." Renault shares rose more than 50 per cent last year, with Peugeot up nearly 60 per cent and the Stoxx Europe 600 Autos & Parts Index gaining around 13 per cent. But European car stocks have fallen sharply at the start of 2016.
The European automobile index was down 4 per cent on Thursday, putting pressure on the broader stock market. Shares in other auto stocks also fell, with Fiat and Peugeot falling 7.9 per cent and 5.1 per cent respectively.
Fiat also came under pressure following a report in Automotive News saying two U.S. car dealerships had filed a lawsuit accusing the carmaker of falsifying sales, traders said. The company denied the lawsuit had been served.
However, commodities stocks helped the market to recoup some of the losses. The European Oil and Gas index and basic materials index rose 2.3 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively after prices of crude oil and metals bounced back.
Mining giant BHP Billiton rose 6 percent after upgrades from brokerage firms Morgan Stanley and Citi. Other miners were also up after recent sharp losses, with Anglo American surging 13.6 percent and Glencore up 9.4 percent.
Among other sharp movers, Tesco rose 6.1 per cent as lower prices and more staff helped the British supermarket chain post a better-than-expected result over the Christmas period. "Tesco further underscores a good UK superstore festive season," Shore Capital analyst Clive Black said.