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PARIS: European shares declined on Wednesday as more hawkish remarks from European Central Bank (ECB) officials tempered interest rate cut expectations, while glum economic data from China further soured investor sentiment.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index ended 1.2% lower, touching a more than six-week low during the day and logging its biggest single-day percentage fall since October.

ECB President Christine Lagarde said the central bank was on track to get inflation back to its 2% target but victory had not yet been won, while Dutch central bank chief Klass Knot said market players were getting ahead of themselves in pricing monetary easing.

While a pause in rate hikes is nearly priced in for the upcoming meeting in January, money markets still estimate a total of 150-basis point cuts in interest rates this year.

All major sectoral indexes logged declines, with rate-sensitive real estate the top sector laggard, down 2.8%, clocking its worst single-day percentage drop in over two months.

Meanwhile, data showed China’s economic growth rate for the fourth quarter missed market expectations, adding to the risk-off appetite for equities.

China-exposed luxury stocks, including LVMH, Kering and Richemont dropped between 2.4% and 3.5%, respectively, while automobiles declined 2.0%.

“The longer term outlook for some of those (China-exposed) sectors could be good in terms of broad valuations, but you still can see a ton of volatility and downside potential as weakness in China continues,” said Josh Chastant, senior investment analyst at GuideStone Funds.

Asia-focussed lender HSBC lost 1.0%, while insurer Prudential dipped 3.9%.

Base and precious metal miners also shed 2.0%, bogged down by weak copper and gold prices.

Britain’s blue-chip FTSE 100 index was the worst hit across European bourses, down 1.5% after data showed the country’s annual rate of inflation sped up for the first time in 10 months in December, denting rate cut bets.

A separate reading showed euro zone inflation running at 2.9% in December on a yearly basis.

In the United States, December retail sales increased more than expected, which pushed the yield on the German two-year government bond to a one-month high.

Among headlining stocks, energy heavyweight Shell lost 2.3% amid slipping oil prices. Separately, UBS downgraded its rating to “neutral” from “buy”.

Zurich Insurance Group fell 1.8% after UBS cut its rating to “neutral” from “buy”.

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