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Europe: Shares give up 3-month highs after shock US data

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[LONDON] European shares gave up three-month highs on Thursday after a surprise sharp decline in US retail sales pulled stocks lower in afternoon trading, spoiling an initially upbeat session that saw blue-chips such as Nestle shine on strong earnings.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed down 0.2 per cent after spending the first half of the day in positive territory.

Wall Street opened in the red, albeit moderately, after data showing the largest drop in retail sales since September 2009, when the economy was emerging from a recession.

"The market's fragile optimism was undermined on Thursday after a truly horrendous set of retail sales figures out of the US," wrote Connor Campbell, an analyst at Spreadex.

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Frankfurt's DAX, which had showed resilience after GDP data revealed the euro zone's largest economy only just escaped falling into recession in the fourth quarter, ended the day as the worst performer.

Some European industrial and consumer staple heavyweights managed to pull out a decent day.

Airbus delivered better-than-expected results, taking some of the sting out of news that Europe's largest aerospace group has abandoned its flagship A380 programme. Its shares jumped at the open and ended the day up 2.7 per cent.

AstraZeneca's fourth quarter sales topped forecasts and the British drugmaker forecast another year of growth, sending its shares up more than 6 per cent, their best day since May 2017.

Nestle, the world's top food and drinks maker, soared to all-time highs after giving an upbeat outlook for the year ahead on an improving outlook in China and North America.

Banks were a mixed bag, with Commerzbank rising after its quarterly results beat expectations, while results from Credit Suisse and Credit Agricole failed to ignite much love from investors. Their shares were down 3.4 per cent and 0.9 per cent respectively.

In healthcare, UK medical devices maker ConvaTec plunged 19 per cent to record lows and the bottom of the Stoxx 600 after full-year results.

The company said Brexit could hurt sales in all European Union countries and its production plants, and it was making plans to stock up to deal with any potential supply disruption.

REUTERS