European stocks fell for the first session in nearly a week Thursday as investors reacted to a mixed set of regional corporate earnings and prepared for what could be a pivotal policy meeting from the European Central Bank later in the session.
Bluechip earnings dominated the morning's activity in Europe, with quarterly numbers from some of the region's biggest companies driving price action on the region's benchmarks. However, a cautious global tone to trading following a disappointing tax reform proposal from U.S. President Donald Trump, along with a mixed reading of the earnings scorecard, has indices on the back foot.
Britain's FTSE 100 is leading to the downside, falling 0.5% by 10:00 BST amid a slump in consumer stocks and a surge in the pound, which traded at a six-and-a-half month high of 1.2910 against the U.S. dollar. A strong pound is generally seen as a negative development for the benchmark, given that around 75% of constituency revenues are earned outside of the United Kingdom.
Germany's DAX index was marked 0.31% lower at 11:00 CET, with two of its biggest stocks -- Bayer AG and Deutsche Bank AG -- at opposite ends of the benchmark.
Bayer AG (BAYRY) shares rose to the top of the German leaderboard after reporting better-than-excepted first quarter earnings that were boosted by a near 20% advance in sales of the group's Xarelto stroke prevention treatment.
The beat analysts' estimates reported adjusted operating profit of €3.9 billion ($4.2 billion) a 15% increase compared with last year and beating average estimate of €3.6 billion in a Reuters poll of analysts. Sales at the group level increased 11.7% to €13.24 billion in the three months to the end of March, the company said.
"At Pharmaceuticals, we once again benefited from the very good performance of our key growth products," CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement.
Shares in German drug and pesticides maker, which is in the midst of completing a $66 billion takeover of Monsanto (MON) , jumped 3% in two hours of trading in Frankfurt to change hands at €111.51 in the first hour of trading Thursday, sending it to the top of Germany's DAX. The Stoxx Europe TMI Pharmaceuticals Index has gained 5.4% since the start of the year.
Deutsche Bank (DB) posted slightly better-than-expected first quarter profits, although revenues slipped, as the Germany's biggest lender attempts to put its litigation and capital raising risks behind it.
Deutsche Bank said pre-tax profits for the first three months of the year were marked at €878 million, modestly ahead of the consensus forecast of €868 million but a significant swing from the €2.4 billion loss recorded over the same period last year. Revenues for the quarter grew 4.4% to €7.346 billion, the bank said, missing analysts' forecasts of an €8.1 billion tally. Net income was pegged at €575 million, again beating the €522 million estimate
Shares in Germany's biggest lender fell 3.2% to €16.77 each, trimming their three month advance to 13% compared to an 3.8% increase for the Stoxx Europe 600 Banks index over the same period.
The euro was also active, rising to 1.0910 against the greenback amid speculation that improving economic data, and the EU-friendly conclusion of the first round of presidential elections in France, will give ECB president Mario Draghi and his colleagues enough room to signal a gradual withdraw of the extraordinary stimulus that has been in place for the past five years.
Stocks in Asia traded lower across the board overnight as investors trimmed equity holdings amid near-two year highs for the broadest regional benchmark -- the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index -- which was marked 0.3% lower while Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.2% into the close to end the session at 19,251.87 points.
Trump's one-page tax cut plans, which aims to reduce corporate levies to 15% (from 35%) and simplify tax codes across the income spectrum, was poorly-received in financial markets in the U.S. yesterday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average reversing earlier gains to close 21 points lower at 20,975.09 and U.S. Treasury bonds rallying 2 basis points to 2.32%.
"There is still a lot unknown about the tax plan," said Matthew Peterson, chief wealth strategist at LPL Financial. "For example, we know the tax brackets, but not what income levels would trigger the rates. Cash held overseas being repatriated would be at a lower, but still unknown, level."
"To the market, this is a snooze, and we are seeing a model decline after the announcement, simply because neither the President's nor Secretary Mnuchin's comments really advance the ball much," Peterson added. "The market was looking for clarity. It wasn't going to get it. But it didn't even get the roadmap."
Oil markets continued to slump on concerns over an oversupply of crude thanks, in part, to surging U.S. production, with benchmark WTI crude slipping 30 cents a barrel to $49.31.
The Energy Information Administration said yesterday that crude inventories fell by a more-than-expected 3.6 million barrels last week, but also noted a surge in gasoline supplies, which rose 3.4 million barrels, while distillate inventories rose 1.2 million barrels.
Early indications from U.S. stock futures suggest a relatively flat open on Wall Street later today, but with key earnings from Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) , Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) , Ford Motor Co. (F) and United Parcel Service (UPS) , the market's direction may not be established until closer to the opening bell.