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[LONDON] European shares were led lower by declines in the bank sector on Thursday, leaving an index of the continent's top companies to nurse a weekly loss.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index closed down 0.4 per cent, ending the week with a 0.2 per cent decline over a holiday-shortened four-day week, following two weeks of gains.
The banking sector was down 1.2 per cent at a five-week low, set for its fifth straight day of losses as investors globally fled risky assets.
Spain's Banco Popular and Austria's Raiffeisen Bank led the sector's losses, down 3.6 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively. French banks Societe Generale, Credit Agricole and BNP Paribas were also among the top fallers, down by between 1.4 and 2.6 per cent.
"The global reflation trade came off and banks, which have been doing quite well, have been dropping," Norman Villamin, chief investment officer at UBP (Union Bancaire Privée), said."But we still see opportunity for European banks going forward, and we are looking in the pull back for the opportunity to put some money to work in European banks."
German airline Lufthansa fell 3.1 per cent after investor InfiniteMiles placed a 2.5 per cent stake at 15.25 euros per share.
Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget rose to a record high, up 7.8 per cent.
A group of private equity companies bid around 200 billion Swedish crowns (S$31.2 billion) for the hygiene arm of the tissue and forestry products company, a Swedish newspaper said, citing unnamed sources.
SCA, which declined comment on the report, said last year it would split its business into a hygiene segment and a forestry segment.
Gold climbed to a five-month high on geopolitical tensions and US President Donald Trump's comments on the dollar's strength.
Gold miner Centamin was up 5.1 per cent. Blue-chip peers Fresnillo and Randgold Resources also gained.
Mediclinic rose 3.1 per cent after a trading update showed 2017 revenue increased 3.5 per cent.
British retailer ABF was up 3.4 per cent. Jefferies raised the stock to "buy" from "hold", citing continued strength in sugar and a turn in margins in its Primark unit.
Britain's Royal Mail rose 3.6 per cent after saying it would close its defined benefit pension scheme next year.
Danish, Icelandic and Norwegian exchanges were closed for the Maundy Thursday holiday, taking volume out of the European benchmarks.
Looking ahead, investors are focusing on upcoming European company earnings and UBP's Villamin said he was looking for results to reflect the macro-economic picture. "We think that's going to be quite important for the next leg of performance in the market," he added.