Europe: Shares end at lowest in three weeks led by energy stocks

[LONDON] European shares ended lower on Friday, extending losses from the previous session when the European Central Bank's new stimulus measures disappointed some investors, with oil stocks leading the fall.

Oil stocks staged a mid-afternoon turn around to fall almost 2 per cent as crude price fell. A meeting of Opec members in Vienna failed to agree an oil production ceiling, even as a global glut has pushed down prices.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 0.34 per cent to their lowest level in almost three weeks. On Thursday, the index slimped 3.3 per cent after the ECB's policy decisions fell short of high expectations.

The ECB cut its deposit rate deeper into negative territory and extended its bond-buying programme by six months. Many considered that the bare minimum after the bank had for weeks stoked expectations of more stimulus.

"In an environment where you were expecting central banks to pump in more liquidity and you don't get it, then investors are just reassessing their expectations of what central banks are going to deliver for them," Commerzbank economist Peter Dixon said. "Equity valuations look pretty stretched given what's happening to the underlying economy," he said. "We could expect choppy moves in the remaining weeks of the year."

Bearish broker notes hit shares of some companies. Sandvik fell 3.1 per cent after JP Morgan cut its rating on the engineering company to "underweight" from "neutral" and lowered its target price for the stock.

Whitbread shares dropped 2.9 per cent. Barclays cut its stance on the stock to "equal weight" from "overweight" and lowered its price target to 5,200 pence from 5,800 pence.

Barclays downgraded the leisure group to reflect a slower growth in UK RevPAR (revenue per available room), deteriorating leading indicators and reduced corporate capex expectations.

On the positive side, AXA rose 3.2 per cent after setting a range for its solvency ratio under new European capital rules, which the French insurer said would allow it to pay higher dividends and invest in growing its business.



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