European shares fell on Thursday as mixed readings of business growth across major economies and uncertainty over the US interest rate outlook made investors nervous, while a jump in the pound dented London stocks.

The latest data showed business growth in the euro zone recovering marginally in August but factory activity shrinking in both Japan and the United States, raising questions about the health of the global economy.

Adding to the dour mood, Germany's central bank said it did not see the need for fiscal stimulus at this time, even though it expected the economy to shrink again this quarter.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index ended 0.4pc lower, with euro zone equities down 0.6pc.

Further denting sentiment was comments from Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Patrick Harker who said on Thursday that he did not see the case for additional stimulus.

Markets are however, waiting for more clarity on the Fed's stand from Chairman Jerome Powell who is due to talk at 1400 GMT on Friday and offer further clues on the rate-cut outlook.

“It is quite clear that markets are in wait and see mode before Jerome Powell's speech tomorrow," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda.

“The hope is that they (Fed) are going to abide by market expectation and cut rates a couple more times this year."

London's exporter-heavy FTSE 100 lagged the broader markets as the pound jumped after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a solution to the Irish border issue could be found before the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union.

The backstop, which requires UK to obey some EU rules if no alternative can be found to keep the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland invisible, has been the most contentious issue in Britain's exit process from the European Union.

Banks were among the few sectors in the black as lenders in the region cheered the European Central Bank's latest move to offer them more time to set aside cash to cover for loans that have gone or may go unpaid.

Madrid's lender-heavy index got an additional boost from a more than 2pc rise in BBVA, Caixabank, and Banco Sabadell after HSBC took a bullish stand on the domestic banking sector in Spain.

The biggest gainer on STOXX was NMC Health on reports of China's Fosun having made competing offers to buy a 40pc stake, while shares of Ambu plunged 10pc after it issued its second profit warning in three months.

Hopes of stimulus by major economies to stave off a global recession have helped equities in the past week stabilise, but the STOXX 600 is still on course to end August lower.

Copyright Reuters, 2019