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Europe: Shares fall as economic growth concerns derail rally

[LONDON] European shares fell back on Monday, after rebounding at the end of last week, as lingering worries about the euro zone economy, Brexit and the US government shutdown offset hopes for a truce between Washington and Beijing over trade.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index closed down 0.15 per cent, erasing some of Friday's stellar gains after strong US jobs data and dovish comments from the Federal Reserve chief.

Optimism about easing friction between the United States and China had also lifted the mood, helping the index to its biggest daily gain since June 2016.

The swift swing into negative territory on Monday morning illustrated the fragility of the gains as other worries returned to the fore.

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The biggest gainers in Friday's strong rally were some of Monday's laggards, with healthcare and food and beverage stocks falling 0.8 and 1.1 per cent respectively. The weaker US dollar also weighed on those companies with large international revenues.

Blowout US data and Fed comments had "calmed some nerves" and provided some psychological support to the market, said Lars Kreckel, global equity strategist at Legal & General Investment Management.

On Friday, Fed chair Jerome Powell said the US central bank was not on a preset path of interest rate hikes and that it would be sensitive to the downside risks markets were pricing in.

"We're not seeing the overheating of the US economy that we were worried about," said Kreckel.

Still, European equities remain out of favour, particularly after business surveys last week pointed to slower growth.

On Friday, Bank of America Merrill Lynch's "Bull & Bear" gauge of market sentiment had fallen to 1.8, a level the US bank's strategists described as "extreme bear" territory that had triggered a "buy" signal for equities.

Sectors sensitive to the trade tensions were among the few gainers on Monday, with basic resources stocks up 1 per cent and technology up 1.5 per cent.

Chipmakers were also recovering from heavy losses last week after Apple's shock revenue warning.

AMS which supplies the iPhone maker, rose 9.6 per cent to the top of the Stoxx 600 after announcing a partnership with Chinese software maker Face++ to produce new 3D facial recognition features for smartphones.

"Face++ is considered a very solid software platform for 3D sensing and for hardware company like AMS the bottleneck is partly software and the partnership helps them to close this gap," said Veysel Taze, analyst at ODDO BHF.

AMS shares lost almost a quarter of their value on Thursday.

Broker research moved other stocks, with Dutch payments firm Adyen rising 6.2 per cent after BAML upgraded it, while Wirecard was up 2.4 per cent after BAML also backed it.

On the downside, Centrica fell 4.4 per cent after a Jefferies downgrade.

A JP Morgan downgrade pushed tyre makers and auto parts makers Pirelli, Michelin and Gestamp lower, adding further gloom to the industry knocked by regulation and slowing Chinese sales.

The bank said it reckons the European autos are unlikely to re-rate in the first half of the year.

Cigarette makers British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands fell 4.2 per cent and 5 per cent respectively following a downbeat note on the sector from Cowen analysts, who downgraded both stocks to "market perform".

REUTERS