- French shares fell 1.8pc as France became the fourth country to report more than 15,000 deaths due to the coronavirus after Italy, Spain and the United States.
- "Lingering fears over the coronavirus could well put a lid on consumption and alter spending habits, while leaving corporate earnings stunted for an extended period."
European shares headed lower on Wednesday after a five-day rally as the first batch of earnings reports underlined the business damage from the coronavirus pandemic, while energy stocks sank on worries of a plunge in oil demand.
Declines for Total SA, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc sent the European energy index to its lowest this month as dire forecasts of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression hit oil prices.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 1.6pc, after surging almost 8pc since April 6 on early signs the health crisis was ebbing and on hopes that sweeping lockdown measures would soon be lifted.
The benchmark index has recovered about 22pc since hitting an eight-year low in March, but is still down about 24pc from its record high and analysts warned an uptick in coronavirus cases could spark another sell-off.
"With the market outlook still mired in tremendous uncertainty, gains in equities remain far from a one-way bet," said Han Tan, market analyst at FXTM.
"Lingering fears over the coronavirus could well put a lid on consumption and alter spending habits, while leaving corporate earnings stunted for an extended period."
US majors JPMorgan Chase & Co and Johnson and Johnson kicked off the first-quarter earnings season on Tuesday with glum forecasts for 2020 as the pandemic crushed business activity and erased liquidity.
ASML Holding NV, a key European supplier to chipmakers such as Samsung and Intel, fell 2.4pc after reporting worse-than-expected earnings on Wednesday.
Dutch navigation and digital mapping company TomTom shed 5.3pc after saying it expected negative free cash flow this year and lower revenue from its automotive and consumer businesses.
Overall, analysts expect earnings for STOXX 600 firms to slide 22pc in the first quarter and 34.2pc in the second, deepening a corporate recession even as some economies consider lifting strict stay-at-home orders.
"It is too early for governments to re-open their economies and if they do so, it must be a slow procedure in order to avoid a new flare up," said Charalambos Pissouros, a market analyst at JFD Group.
French shares fell 1.8pc as France became the fourth country to report more than 15,000 deaths due to the coronavirus after Italy, Spain and the United States.
Britain's domestically focussed mid-cap index slumped another 3.3pc on signs the country was headed for a longer lockdown and forecasts the economy could be facing its deepest recession in 300 years.