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Europe: Shares end flat after choppy day, Amec sinks 20%

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[MILAN] European shares steadied at the close on Thursday, with stronger pharmaceutical and banking stocks offsetting a slump in companies like Amec Foster and Berendsen.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index ended flat in percentage terms after moving in and out of positive territory several times during the day, with healthcare stocks leading sectoral gainers as they recovered from recent losses.

However, UK engineering firm Amec Foster sank more than 20 per cent, the worst performer in the STOXX 600 index, after saying that 2016 and 2017 trading would be in line with its board's expectations.

"Amec Foster's strategy review revealed the extent of the work that needs to be done to keep the business on an even keel. Today's announcement suggests that even with a slightly improved oil price, it's going to be a long, slow climb," said Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. "Berendsen is the latest support services business to take a dive. In what has in the past been quite an old-fashioned industry, it seems the group's operations are struggling to keep pace with the more flexible laundry service being offered to clients."

Berendsen fell 16.3 per cent after the commercial laundry company issued a profit warning, citing higher-than-expected costs.

Among other notable fallers, Swiss engineer ABB fell 6.6 per cent as its orders slipped for the sixth quarter and were not forecast to rise soon.

Finnish telecoms equipment group Nokia dropped 7.6 per cent after reporting a sharp drop in third-quarter earnings.

However gains in several companies offset the losses.

Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics jumped more than 10 per cent as the company said it expected improved profitability in 2016 after strong demand for smartphones helped boost third-quarter sales and profits. Its peer AMS also rose 5.8 per cent.

Financials were in demand. Sentiment was propped up by a reassuring update from German lender Deutsche Bank, up 0.6 per cent.

Even though it gave no timing for a deal with US authorities over a multi-billion dollar fine, it unveiled a surprise third quarter net profit on a surge in bond trading.

"All in the right direction," analysts at Morgan Stanley, who have an "equal-weight" rating on Deutsche Bank, said. "Revenues were stronger and the bank is delivering on costs with this quarter being a fourth consecutive one of declining opex."

Britain's Barclays rose 4.8 per cent after a forecast-beating jump in third quarter profits, while Spain's BBVA rose 2.8 per cent after posting a higher than expected rise in third-quarter profit, surprising markets by reaching its capital target a year ahead of schedule.

Pharmaceutical stocks also gathered momentum.

Fresenius shares rose 2.1 per cent after the German healthcare group said that cost cuts, business overhauls and the launch of generic drugs in North America benefited the company, which also raised its earnings guidance.