European stocks slipped on Wednesday, following much of Asia overnight. As the morning wore on, some markets did begin to claw their way back, with Germany's Dax heading the pack and at one point reaching positive territory. But by mid-morning the gloom had returned. The FTSE100 was down 0.65%at 6,190.49, the Dax was off 0.59% at 10,202.30, and in Paris the Cac 40 was down 0.73% at 4,472.74
On the futures market, the S&P 500 mini was down 0.2% at $2,090.75 and as for oil prices, West Texas Intermediate Crude was down 1.18% at $48.52 per barrel, while Brent Crude languished at $49.69, down 0.14%.
Oil prices are seen unlikely to head higher before any announcement by the oil producers' cartel OPEC, which is meeting in Vienna until Thursday. Also in investors' thoughts this week are Thursday's interest rate and policy decisions by the European Central Bank and the U.S. employment figures due on Friday, which could give further clues to the Fed's interest rate responses this summer.
The research group Markit painted another gloomy picture of near-stagnation in the euro zone, with the manufacturing sector purchasing managers' index set at 51.5 for May. That's still above the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction. But the index was at 51.7 in April. In the U.K., however, manufacturers shrugged off last month's slump, despite worries over the referendum on membership of the European Union later this month. The manufacturing PMI for the U.K. was just back in positive territory at 50.1, after falling to 49.2 in April.
Ahold, the Dutch supermarket group that owns online grocery service Peapod and the retailers Stop & Shop and Giant Food Stores in the U.S., jumped in early trading, on better than expected first-quarter results. It managed a 4.3% increase in sales to €11.8 billion ($13.16 billion), despite investing in lower prices to compete with German discounters Aldi and Lidl. But despite double-digit sales growth at Peapod and an increase of 4% in U.S sales to €7.5 billion, same-store sales growth in the U.S. was up only 0.8%.
Also in the Netherlands, newly listed Philips Lighting slid after a negative analysts' assessment from Jefferies. The stock, which had already started flickering on Tuesday, was down over 1.5% at €21.95 in early trading, though it remains well above its IPO price of €20 per share.
U.K. defense contractor Cobham (CBHMF) , which is struggling with debt it says will be around the covenant level of 3.5 times Ebitda by the end of June, announced a discounted issue of new shares to existing shareholders to raise about £506 million ($733.4 million). The rights issue is expected to reduce debt and allow management to focus on bringing development programs to the production stage and generate new streams of cash. The shares rose over 2% on the news.
Auto and bicycle accessories retailer Halfords (HLFDY) took a roadside tumble in London on a 0.9% fall in full-year same-store sales in its bikes division, due to poor weather. That contrasted with strong sales in maintenance and accessories in its dominant motoring division that helped push overall sales up 1.7% in the year to April. That delivered pretax, pre-restructuring profit of £81.5 million.
In Japan, technology group Softbank (SFBTF) jumped 2.1% to close at yen 2,062.0, after announcing that it planned to sell at least $7.9 billion of stock in Alibaba (BABA - Get Report) , taking its holding from 32.3% to about 28% of the Chinese e-commerce giant.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had decided to delay a long-planned sales tax increase by two and a half years to encourage consumer spending. The Nikkei 225 closed down 1.62% at 16,955.73 and the Topix was off 1.28% at 1,362.07. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.26% at 20,760.98 while in China the combined Shenzhen and Shanghai CSI 300 closed down 0.28% at 3,160.55, despite earlier gains. Purchasing managers' indices compiled by Caixin/Markit and the government presented a divergent picture of factory activity, with the former pointing to a 15th month of contraction and the latter signaling growth.
However, down under, Australian economic growth surprised on the upside. The economy grew 1.1% in the first quarter, which translates into an annual rate of 3.1%, reflecting better-than-expected exports, as well as private consumption and government spending. Sydney's ASX 200 nevertheless closed down 1.03% at 5,323.17.