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Europe: Shares off lows; Brazil-exposed stocks slump

[MILAN] European shares fell on Thursday, but ended off lows as jitters over political turmoil in the United States abated, while stocks exposed to Brazil were hit after a scandal embroiled the country's president.

The Stoxx 600 index ended down 0.5 per cent at 389.19 points after falling as much as 1.2 per cent earlier in the day to its lowest in three weeks.

On Wednesday, the pan-European benchmark saw its biggest one-day drop in eight months on worries about US President Donald Trump's ability to enact stimulus policies after reports he may have tried to interfere with a federal investigation.

But concerns about political stability appeared to ease as strong US economic data helped Wall Street turn into positive territory.

Market voices on:

"Current thinking goes that the Trump trade is unwinding... But looking at financial conditions suggests that rumours of the Trump trade's demise have been greatly exaggerated," said Aberdeen Asset Management Senior Investment Manager James Athey.

Stocks with exposure to Brazil such as French supermarket group Casino and phone groups Telefonica and Telecom Italia fell sharply as Brazilian assets were sold off after bribery allegations against President Michel Temer darkened the outlook for his reform plans.

Shares in Italy's Fiat Chrysler, which also is exposed to Brazil, fell 3 per cent after the US Justice Department said it was preparing to sue the carmaker over excess diesel emissions as early as this week.

Some of the largest individual stock moves were spurred by fresh M&A action, with shares in Berendsen soaring more 21 per cent after French laundry firm Elis made a US$2.6 billion offer for the British rival.

Meanwhile, shares in Swedish debt collector firm Intrum Justitia dropped 11 per cent after it proposed a string of divestments in order to assuage European Commission concerns over its planned merger with Norwegian rival Lindorff.

On the positive side, earnings buoyed shares in luxury goods firm Burberry, which rose 4.7 per cent after its full-year update, while restaurant operator SSP Group also gained after some strong first half results.

So far Europe has enjoyed a strong earnings season, with 66 per cent of firms which have reported results beating analysts'expectations, which points to earnings growth of more than 19 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.

This chimes with an overall robust reporting season for major developed markets globally.

"Top line was particularly strong, helped by higher commodity prices, the pick-up in inflation and the rebound in global activity," JP Morgan's equity strategy team said in a note, highlighting that sales grew the most in Europe.