European shares sank to a near two-week low on Thursday as a resurgence in COVID-19 cases across the continent and fading hopes for more U.S. fiscal stimulus before the presidential election dented demand for equities globally.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 1.7% and on track for its worst day in more than three weeks, with travel and leisure, autos and energy stocks tumbling more than 2%.
Bank shares tracked a decline in bond yields, shrugging off signs of a pickup in M&A activity after a report said Italy's Banco BPM and France's Credit Agricole had signed a confidentiality agreement in a first step towards formal talks over a possible merger.
“With the prospect of an imminent U.S. stimulus plan diminishing by the day (and) rising infection rates prompting tighter restrictions across Europe, is it any wonder that investors are starting to get a little twitchy?” said Michael Hewson, market analyst at CMC Markets UK.
European stock markets have bounced from the coronavirus lows hit in March on a raft of global stimulus, but sentiment has recently taken a hit from a surge in infections as well as signs of a slowing economic rebound.
France has imposed curfews and other European nations are closing schools and cancelling surgeries in an attempt to contain the resurgence ahead of the winter season.
Bourses in France, Italy, Spain and Germany fell between 1.7% and 2.0%.
In the UK, ex-dividend trading weighed on the blue-chip FTSE 100, while investors looked for signs of progress in a Brexit trade deal with the two-day European Union summit set to kick off later in the day.
“It’s not in anyone’s interest if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and markets are so far leaning towards an 11th-hour Brexit agreement,” said Hussein Sayed, a market strategist at FXTM.
Global shares also began the day on the back foot as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said a deal on more federal aid was unlikely before the Nov. 3 election.
In company news, Swiss drugmaker Roche shed 2.5% even as it posted record revenue in its diagnostics division that offset declining drug sales and kept it on track to meet its full-year 2020 targets.
Lonza Group was one of the few gainers on the STOXX 600 after it forecast double-digit sales growth as part of its 2023 group guidance under a new structure with four divisions.
Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Arun Koyyur