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Europe: Shares mark worst week since Feb as pharma stocks come under fire


[LONDON] European shares slumped on Friday, weighed down by weaker drugmakers after two US lawmakers called on federal antitrust regulators to open an investigation into possible price fixing.

A slew of earnings updates also delivered a mixed picture.

US lawmakers urged an inquiry into whether Sanofi , Eli Lilly, Merck and Novo Nordisk had colluded to set prices for insulin and other diabetes drugs. Sanofi and Novo Nordisk were down 1 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively.

Top faller was Hikma, down 6.8 per cent after HSBC cut its price target citing broader market concerns over a separate US Department of Justice investigation into price collusion in the pharma market.

The sector has been hit recently by worries that Hillary Clinton could seek tougher pricing regulation if she wins the race for the White House next week. "A Clinton victory could be unhelpful for health care stocks," Citi analysts said in a strategy note.

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The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 0.8 per cent at its close, marking its biggest weekly fall since February.

The index has been hit by growing jitters ahead of the US presidential election on Tuesday and has been trading near its lowest levels since July.

"As the presidential election race appears to (be) getting tighter with only a few days left until Americans are going to the polls, many traders (are) continuing to reduce their risk exposure further, which is also weighing on stocks," Markus Huber, trader at City of London Markets, said in a note.

Elsewhere market action was driven by earnings updates.

France's Richemont rose 5.2 per cent after the luxury goods group announced a management revamp in the wake of a drop in net profit in the six months to September, driven by one-off restructuring charges and product buy-backs.

Helvea analyst Andreas von Arx said the key figures were above expectations while other analysts welcomed management comments that sales in October were modestly positive. The company had issued a profit warning in September.

Among outstanding gainers, Ubisoft soared 8.6 per cent to top the STOXX 600, as Kepler Cheuvreux upgraded the French game developer to "buy" after the company lifted its operating profit target.

Shares were boosted at Cosmetics giant L'Oreal, whose sales growth beat expectations, and gambling firm Paddy Power, which lifted its full-year profit forecast citing a boost in the sterling value of its euro revenue, as well as this year's merger and favourable sporting results.

But French outdoor advertising company JC Decaux fell nearly 10 per cent after it said organic revenue growth would turn negative in the final quarter of the year and affect margins.


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