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European shares close lower led by Carrefour and WPP

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European shares slid on Thursday as a flurry of uninspiring earnings updates from retailer Carrefour and advertiser WPP kept the mood downbeat, while broader jitters over tightening monetary policy spilled over into a new month.

DUBLIN
Several companies posted results on Thursday but activity on the Irish Stock Exchange was limited after it was shut down at noon due to the severe weather conditions.

Profits at Irish building materials giant CRH rose more than 15 per cent to €2 billion last year, the group said. Shares climbed more than 2.1 per cent in early trading but fell back to just under 1 per cent by close of business.

AIB reported a slight fall in profits during 2017, but net interest margin rose as the ongoing economic recovery helped boost its figures. It traded down 2 per cent, although this can be attributed to an artificially high close on Wednesday.

Grafton Group, the owner of DIY chain Woodie’s, said revenue rose 9 per cent to a record £2.7 billion (€3.04 billion) last year. It closed the day up about 0.5 per cent.

Pretax profit at food company Total Produce surged in 2017, rising 43 per cent to €72.5 million as acquisitions impacted the company’s balance sheet.

Independent News and Media, which hosted an extraordinary general meeting at which chairman Leslie Buckley stepped down on Thursday, saw shares drop close to 1 per cent.

Elsewhere, Aryzta, the parent of Cuisine de France, finished the day down 4 per cent, while commercial property companies Green Reit and Ires Reit also traded lower.

LONDON
UK shares fell on Thursday after advertising giant WPP reported its worst results since the financial crisis and a gauge of British factory activity fell to its weakest in eight months.

The FTSE fell 0.8 per cent to 7,175.6 points, with the decline accelerating after the Purchasing Managers’ Index survey data showed February manufacturing output expanded more slowly despite a marked upturn in orders.

Worries that Britain will not secure an EU exit transition deal also weighed on sentiment.

WPP, one of Britain’s biggest companies, has suffered as major consumer goods clients cut spending and as Google, Facebook and consultants Accenture encroached onto its territory. Its shares slumped 8.2 per cent, marking its worst day since August 2017 and wiping £1.4 billion off its market value.

The results and gloomy comments on the business outlook contrasted with more upbeat guidance from peers Omnicom, IPG and Publicis.

Rentokil Initial shares tumbled 9.1 per cent after disclosing its results, which analysts said were in line with expectations but showed slower growth and the need for further digital investments this year.

Luxury goods maker Burberry jumped 3.8 per cent after it named Riccardo Tisci as its new chief creative, replacing Christopher Bailey.

EUROPE
Results were squarely in focus in Europe on Thursday, with shares in French supermarket Carrefour dropping 6 per cent after the group cut its dividend and gave a cautious 2018 profit outlook.

Plans by fast-fashion company Zalando to expand into two new markets were not met well by the market, with its shares also falling 6.1 per cent as investors assessed the impact of such heavy investment.

NEW YORK
Wall Street’s main indexes swung between gains and losses early on Thursday after Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said the central bank does not see strong evidence of wage inflation.

Reports that US president Donald Trump was planning to announce a decision on import tariffs on steel and aluminum pushed industrial stocks lower. Boeing and Caterpillar were among the biggest decliners on the Dow on fears that import tariffs could hit profits.

Energy stocks were up 1.2 per cent, led by a 5 per cent gain in Range Resources and a 3 per cent rise in Andeavor. Oil prices were still down about 0.8 per cent. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,658 to 1,125. On the Nasdaq, 1,619 issues rose and 1,207 fell.

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