PARIS: An overall market decline dragged Europe’s benchmark stock index to a more than two-week low on Friday, following hawkish comments from some Federal Reserve officials, a spike in Middle East tensions and hotter-than-expected US jobs data.

The continent-wide STOXX 600 fell 0.9%, logging its worst day since early February. For the week, the index dropped 1.2%, its worst weekly drop since mid-January.

Utilities, retail and telecommunications were the worst-hit sectors, down between 1.6% and 2.2%.

Benchmark indexes across all major European economies such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain fell over 1% each.

Fresh data showed much higher-than-expected US nonfarm payrolls for March, potentially delaying anticipated Federal Reserve rate cuts this year. The central bank’s policymakers also struck a hawkish chord before and after the data.

“The US employment strength shouldn’t move the needle too much for the ECB,” said Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers.

“In Europe there are a few more stresses on a lot of the economies, so the situation there might prove a little more fertile for rate cuts.”

Optimism around a rate reduction by the European Central Bank and the Fed has been the primary driver for gains in equity markets globally since late 2023.

Also exerting pressure on equities were rising euro zone bond yields after the US jobs data.

Reflecting investor anxiety, the euro STOXX volatility index hit its highest since November 2023.

European equities were already under pressure since early trade following hawkish comments from Fed officials and a spike in Middle East tensions.

Back home, data showed euro zone retail sales dropped 0.7% on an annual basis, less than the 1.3% decline expected by economists polled by Reuters.


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