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European stocks slide as oil retreat drags energy companies down

[LONDON] European shares started the new quarter with fresh declines as oil companies tumbled and investors assessed the implications of better-than-expected US jobs data.

A measure of energy-related companies fell the most of the 19 industry groups on the Stoxx Europe 600 Index, with Total SA leading the retreat. Crude slipped as Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince said the kingdom will only freeze production if Iran and others follow suit. Zurich Insurance Group AG tumbled 9.2 per cent, dragging insurers lower.

The Stoxx 600 dropped 1.4 per cent to 332.89 at 4:30 pm in London, paring losses of as much as 2.4 per cent. After rebounding 14 per cent in five weeks through March 14, the equity gauge stumbled to end the first quarter down 7.7 per cent. That's the worst start to a year since 2009, with all but one of its constituent groups falling. The VStoxx Index, which tracks volatility expectations for euro-area stocks, advanced 7 per cent today.

"The market is missing confidence," said Mathias Haege, who helps oversee 300 million euros as managing partner of MaxAlpha Asset Consultant in Frankfurt. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what central banks are doing if economic growth doesn't accelerate and corporate earnings continue to shrink."

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US employment climbed and wages picked up in March, according to a Labour Department report. Average hourly earnings increased 0.3 per cent from a month earlier, while the jobless rate crept up to 5 per cent as more people entered the labor force. European shares briefly pared losses after the release before extending their retreat.

Investors are parsing the data for indications of the trajectory of interest rates after recent mixed economic reports and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's reiteration that any increases will be gradual in light of uncertain global growth. Traders have cut the odds of an April rise to zero, with the probability of a June move seen at 28 per cent.

Among stocks moving on corporate news, Airbus Group SE slipped 2.5 per cent. Engine problems will delay the deliveries of its A400M aircraft, according to German newspaper Bild. Petrofac Ltd fell 5 per cent after saying it's looking into bribery allegations made in the press this week.

ThyssenKrupp AG rose 5 per cent following a report that it's in talks with Tata Steel Ltd about possible participation in the German company's steel business.

BLOOMBERG

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