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Trade fears end European shares' series of weekly gains

[LONDON] European stocks slipped again on Friday and put an end to five straight weeks of gains as fears about an economic slowdown in the euro zone and a potential full-blown Sino/US trade war added to disappointing earnings from blue chips.

Losses deepened after Wall Street opened in the red, casting a further shadow over the rally that has been lifting markets since shortly after Christmas.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 lost 0.5 per cent on the day and 0.4 per cent on the week. Germany's exporter-heavy DAX sustained heavy losses among regional bourses and retreated a little over one per cent.

Markets were hit on Thursday by US President Donald Trump saying he did not plan to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping before a March 1 deadline to achieve a trade deal.

Growth worries in Europe also increased after the European Commission downgraded its growth forecasts.

"The trade issue is more in focus in the short term. Macro data over the last few weeks hasn't given any reason to be more concerned about a recession than a month or two ago," said Paul Harper, equity strategist at DNB.

"The cycle is pretty mature now but it's always pretty difficult to know how close to a recession you are when indications are not showing signs that it's around the corner," he added.

Among disappointing trading updates was Belgium's Umicore, which lost 7.3 per cent after saying it expected 2019 growth to be hit by subdued demand in cars and consumer electronics, and R&D costs.

Analysts said the company's lack of quantitative guidance for 2019 weighed on sentiment.

Trade-sensitive autos fell 2.2 per cent, extending losses from Thursday, when the sector suffered its biggest one-day drop since the Brexit vote aftermath in June 2016.

Tata Motors warned that Jaguar Land Rover would swing to a loss due to weak sales. That news demand weighed on auto suppliers Valeo and Faurecia, down 2.6 to 3 per cent.

Adding to the negativity around autos, German car wiring supplier Leoni sank 32 per cent after delivering a significant miss to fourth-quarter earnings expectations.

The Swiss business services company DKSH fell 7.5 per cent, extending Thursday's losses after reporting earnings down 11 per cent, below estimates.

There were also positive surprises, however. Swedish electronics group Dometic topped the Stoxx index with a 15.7 per cent jump after giving a positive outlook for 2019 sales growth.

French cosmetics giant L'Oreal said strong demand for luxury skin creams helped it beat fourth-quarter sales forecasts - another company reporting better-than-feared demand from China, after LVMH last week.

"L'Oréal is capitalising on very strong skin care growth, booming Luxury markets, strong demand in Travel Retail channels and the shift to online," wrote Liberum analysts.

Its shares rose just 1.25 per cent, however; traders put the move down to profit-taking after a strong run to a record high on Feb 5.

Luxury handbag maker Hermes gained 1.5 per cent after it also said sales momentum in its Chinese stores remained stayed strong.

Overall, Europe is on track for its weakest quarter for earnings growth in three years, but investors have been more forgiving to companies with low valuations and expectations at rock bottom.

"The question now is what can provide the catalyst for another leg-up from here," said DNB's Harper. "At the moment, earnings revisions are not particularly encouraging."


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