August 20, 2013 5:26 pm

Banks and insurers lead Europe’s retreat

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Banks and insurers found themselves at the foot of pan-European equity indices on fears their exposure to falling debt and stock markets will dent profits later this year.

The FTSE Eurofirst 300 fell 0.8 per cent to 1,214.78 as financial groups cluttered the bottom of the index along with construction companies.

Spain’s Caixabank fell 4 per cent to €2.89 as the country’s financial sector continued to struggle with bad loans. Banco Santander fell 2.1 per cent to €5.53.

Insurers were also among the biggest fallers. Dutch group Aegon fell 3.9 per cent to €5.53 and France’s Axa shed 3.8 per cent to €17.33.

Construction groups and building materials suppliers were lower for a second day after earnings at Ireland’s CRH and Austria’s Wienerberger missed forecasts.

Shares in CRH, the cement and aggregates manufacturer, fell 4.7 per cent to €16.01 after the company cut its full-year earnings targets.

Wienerberger, the world’s largest maker of bricks, fell 0.9 per cent to €11.30 after it said construction momentum in its major western European markets was sagging.

Rival HeidelbergCement fell 2.5 per cent to €54.42 after Barclays Capital downgraded its rating to “market weight” from “overweight”, reflecting the company’s exposure to the slowdown and currency depreciation in emerging markets.

Steelmakers were lower after Morgan Stanley cut its ratings on ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest producer of the metal, to “underweight” from “equal weight”.

“The market prices a recovery that is unlikely to materialise in our view,” the broker said. The steelmaker’s shares fell 3.1 per cent to €9.87.

The broker also cut its rating on smaller rival Salzgitter to “underweight” from “equal weight”, pushing its shares 3.8 per cent lower to €28.34.

Lindt and Sprüngli, the Swiss chocolate maker, climbed 1.9 per cent to SFr3,790 after it reported an 8.7 per cent rise in first-half underlying sales while net profit jumped 40 per cent, beating forecasts, thanks to lower cocoa prices.

Also in Switzerland, Straumann, the world’s biggest dental implant manufacturer, jumped 8.5 per cent to SFr166 after a 21 per cent rise in first-half net earnings.

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