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Media stocks weigh on European shares as WPP sinks

[LONDON] Media stocks weighed on European markets on Wednesday, led lower by sharp declines in advertising giant WPP after it cut sales forecasts on weakening demand.

Investors were keeping a close eye on monetary policy, a day ahead of the start of a central bank symposium in Jackson Hole, although dovish comments by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi had little market impact.

Markets also shrugged off a PMI survey showing euro zone manufacturing businesses had their best month of growth in six and a half years in August.

"The last couple of weeks everyone has been sitting on the fence; there hasn't been a big directional view and people are struggling to decide which way to get off," said Graham Secker, chief European equity strategist at Morgan Stanley.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index and euro zone blue-chips both dipped 0.5 per cent.

WPP shares lost 10.9 per cent after the world's largest advertising group cut its full-year sales outlook after a drop in demand caused it to miss first-half targets.

The agency has been among the worst-performing stocks in the media sector, which has declined 4.8 per cent overall this year against a buoyant broader European market.

"Deteriorating trading conditions are a concern and... we are minded to trim our full year profit before tax forecasts by 4 to 5 per cent," said Roddy Davidson, media analyst at Shore Capital.

The sector index SXMP fell 2.7 per cent, with WPP's French peer Publicis down 3.2 per cent.

Potash miner K+S was a bright spot, jumping more than 4 per cent after a report in German business newsletter Platow Brief that hedge fund Elliott could be interested in the company.

Fiat Chrysler ended up 5.8 per cent at an all-time high on continued speculation about potential tie-ups. One day after China's Great Wall Motor cooled down prospects of a possible deal with Fiat, Bloomberg reported that the Italian American automaker was considering options including a plan to spin off the upscale Maserati and Alfa Romeo brands.

Belgian chemicals group Umicore fell 2.5 per cent after Berenberg cut the stock to "hold" on valuation concerns. It has gained around 19 per cent year-to-date, outperforming the chemicals sector.

"Generating substantial upside to the current share price would require us to assume around 15 per cent global pure electric vehicle sales penetration by 2025 (base case: 11 per cent) or that Umicore captures over 60 per cent of the global market for automotive grade NMC by 2025," Berenberg analysts wrote.

Earnings for the Stoxx 600 were set to grow 15.3 per cent in the second quarter year-on-year, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Nine of the 10 sectors were expected to see an improvement in earnings in what analysts have called a "good, but not great" earnings season after a record-breaking first quarter.

Energy stocks have seen the strongest earnings growth, at 47.8 per cent, while pharmaceutical companies, whose high exposure to the US has made the stronger euro a headache, saw the weakest earnings growth rate, at -3.4 per cent.