European shares drop on coronavirus cases, weak euro zone data

By Medha Singh and Joice Alves

(Reuters) – European shares gave up earlier gains to end firmly in negative territory on Friday after the United Kingdom and Italy confirmed their first coronavirus cases, and with a set of disappointing euro zone indicators also weighing on sentiment.

Britain’s blue chip index <.FTSE> closed down 1.3%, while Milan’s main benchmark <.FTMIB> bled 2.3% as the country’s cabinet declared a state of emergency over the virus. Britain and Italy have two cases each.

The pan-European STOXX 600 <.STOXX> ended 1.1% lower, taking losses this week to 3% for its worst week in almost six months. On the month, it lost 1.2% – its worst January since 2016.

“Each new case adds to the uncertainty about the virus,” said Philip Marey, a strategist at RaboBank.

The World Health Organization declared the epidemic a global emergency on Thursday as the death toll passed 200 and the number of cases of infection rose to nearly 10,000.

While the illness has been centred on China, governments around the world are scrambling to stop its spread and travel curbs and supply chain disruptions have prompted economists to reassess the potential economic fallout from the outbreak.

Miners <.SXPP> were the biggest losers, down 1.6%, on worries China and its gigantic market for raw materials will come to a standstill if the epidemic worsens.

Travel and leisure <.SXTP> stocks also extended losses as more airlines suspended flights to China.

Concerns about the euro zone economy also pushed stocks downwards.

Economic growth in the bloc was less than expected in the last quarter of 2019, mainly due to surprise GDP contractions in France and Italy, while core inflation slowed in January in a worrying for the European Central Bank.

The United Kingdom’s official exit from the European Union later on Friday had no immediate impact on stocks but it fuels uncertainty going forward. The FTSE 100 is roughly back to where it was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s landslide election win on Dec. 12 during which he promised to “get Brexit done”.

Among earnings updates, Spanish lender Banco Sabadell <SABE.MC> tumbled almost 14% to the bottom of STOXX 600 after the lender swung to a loss in the fourth quarter.

On the other hand, shares of Signify <LIGHT.AS>, the world’s largest maker of lights, rallied 7% after reporting a higher quarterly core profit, which prompted a price target hike from JP Morgan.

France-based healthcare company Novacyt <ALNOV.PA> <NCYT.L> shot up 81% after saying it had launched a new molecular test for the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Susan Mathew and Medha Singh in Bengaluru, Alves Joice in London; Editing by Bernard Orr, Kirsten Donovan and Frances Kerry)