Europe’s main STOXX 600 index posted its worst session since a selloff in May on Tuesday after US President Donald Trump ramped up his trade rhetoric against China, deepening wounds left by a batch of weak economic data and corporate earnings.
The pan-European equities index closed down 1.5% in heavy trading and Germany’s trade-sensitive stocks hit a six-week low after Trump warned China against waiting out his first term in office to finalise any trade deal.
Automakers, sensitive to trade headlines, fell 2.3%. But banks led declines among European sectors due to growing expectations of lower interest rates.
The US Federal Reserve is set to conclude its monetary policy meeting on Wednesday, with investors looking for signals on whether a widely expected 25-basis-point rate cut from the US central bank will be the start of an easing cycle.
“It’s unlikely you’ll see consolidation tomorrow if there’s a (Fed) cut. In the short term, people are emptying their books, taking profits and getting ready for holidays,” said Stephane Barbier de la Serre, a macro strategist at Makor Capital Markets in Geneva.
As evidence continues to build of the impact of a bruising trade war on global growth, expectations that major central banks will adopt accommodative policies have buoyed global markets since a sharp fall in May.
A series of weak economic data from France, Germany and the euro zone as a whole painted a meagre growth outlook, lending support to doves among the European Central Bank.
A slide in the British pound on worries of a disorderly Brexit failed to support the FTSE 100, which fell 0.5%.
Banks were a big drag on the index after the Bank of England said they will have to tell investors in 2021 if they can be closed down without creating havoc in financial markets.
British Gas parent Centrica sank 19% to its lowest level in more than two decades as it slashed its dividend and said its chief executive would step down.
Imperial Brands PLC and British American Tobacco PLC slipped more than 4% after US rival Altria Group posted a tepid forecast for domestic cigarette volumes.
Ireland’s main stock index ISEQ, which tends to fall on fears of a no-deal UK departure from the European Union, slid 2.2%, its biggest one-day percentage drop since December 2018.
The latest company to become victim to trade disputes was Germany’s Bayer, which slipped 3.7% after the agricultural supplies company said its full-year earnings target has become harder to reach.
Airline Lufthansa dropped 6% after posting a decline in second-quarter earnings and saying that the European market was likely to remain challenging this year.