European Markets in Sea of Red; Election Jitters, Brexit Volatility Hit Hard

European shares closed out the week in the red Friday as investors prepared for the final trading days before next week's U.S. presidential elections.

The weekly close came at the tail end of an eventful week for both the U.K. economy and London stock markets, which also faced legal developments in the Brexit saga -- something that sparked the strongest rally for the pound since the global financial crisis.

The U.S. dollar has traded lower for much of the past five days, dipping below 97 against a basket of global currencies. Investors sought comfort in safe-haven investments such as the Swiss franc, the European single currency and gold bullion.

The pound surged more than 3% against the greenback after the U.K. High Court ruled Thursday that Prime Minister Theresa May must seek parliamentary approval before triggering the country's exit from the European Union.

The pound was quoted at $1.2532 in late Friday trading, the highest level since the so-called "Flash Crash" of Oct. 7 and rounding out the best week for the beleaguered currency since 2009.

The gains, however, helped push London's FTSE 100 index -- whose companies earn more than 75% of their revenues outside the U.K. -- significantly lower, with the benchmark falling more than 100 points Friday to cap a 5-day decline of nearly 5%.

The week's price action from the FTSE 100 saw its year-to-date gains almost halved, down to 7%, and left it trailing Continental stock markets for the week.

In Germany, the DAX fell nearly 4%. In France, the CAC 40 dipped nearly 3%.

U.K. government bonds, known as Gilts, saw yields rise sharply following the Bank of England's Thursday rate-setting meeting in which it essentially scrapped hints of a rate cut and lifted its near-term forecasts for growth and inflation.

Benchmark 10-year Gilts were sold swiftly on the release, taking the yield (which moves inversely to prices) to a post-Brexit-vote high of 1.24% before rallying hard late Friday to 1.13%.

Markets were also beset with mixed signals from the United States, where equities are on pace for the longest stretch of declines since 2008 in the run-up to Tuesday's election.

However, a relatively robust October jobs report from the U.S. Labor Department, which showed the nation's unemployment rate falling to 4.9% amid accelerating earnings growth, rekindled bets on a December interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve.

Elsewhere, global crude prices traded with extreme volatility Friday, with Brent crude falling more than 1.5% to $45.75 following a Reuters report that suggested Saudi Arabia would be prepared to "significantly" ramp up production after the next OPEC meeting in Vienna amid a spat over output agreements with Iran.

Prominently featured among Friday's top fallers on the FTSE 100 were Randgold Resources (GOLD) and Fresnillo (FNLPF) , both gold miners, whose stocks fell by nearly 5% in the wake of the week's Brexit developments. 

The High Court judgment and the Bank of England's implied decision to can the idea of pushing through another rate cut later in the year have both deflated the case for precious metal producers in recent days.

On the FTSE 250, furniture and upholstery manufacturer DFS Furniture saw its stock fall more than 10% after private equity company Advent International sold a stake sale equivalent to 12% of the company.

Tate & Lyle (TATYY) , formerly a sugar powerhouse and now a manufacturer of sweeteners and other food ingredients, saw its stock fall by close to 5% in response to a the rally in the pound sterling.

Tate was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Brexit vote, with reported profits rising by 37% in the recent half-year, with nearly half of this the result of currency moves.

In Germany, the week's corporate earnings underperformers were the top fallers on Friday.

ProSieben (PBSFY) posted a good set of results earlier in the week, but the television broadcaster raised more than €500 million of new equity on Friday to fund M&A and its expansion into digital services. The shares were down by around 7.5%.

Sports apparel retailer Adidas (ADDYY) also continued to reel from its earlier announcement that it will take a €30 million charge in relation to its restructuring of the Reebok brand, an amount that it is equivalent to almost 5% of 2015 net income. The stock was down for a second day running, this time by 3.2%.

In France, the CAC 40 was weighed down by losses at heavyweight insurance giant AXA (AXAHY) and hotel operator Accor.

AXA stock continued to fall following Thursday's third-quarter results, which saw it report higher revenue but a disappointing performance in its key life insurance division and a smaller-than-expected regulatory capital buffer for the period. Accor hotels stock responded to a surprise fall in European and French services data for October, sending the shares down by 2.4%.

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