European markets close lower amid coronavirus jitters; Stoxx 600 down 4.4%

European stocks closed lower on Monday as the coronavirus outbreak continued to weigh on global financial markets.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 provisionally closed 4.4% lower. Travel and leisure stocks plummeted over 7%, while the oil and gas sector eked out a 0.9% rise after the U.S. Federal Reserve announced an aggressive asset purchase program to support markets.

Global financial markets begun the week on shaky ground as countries around the world continued to wage battle against the coronavirus, of which there are now over 350,000 confirmed cases worldwide, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. The virus has now caused over 15,000 deaths.

Governments have launched massive aid packages to help businesses and workers to get through the crisis but the U.S. is yet to agree an economic stimulus plan. A stimulus bill failed a key procedural Senate vote Sunday as Democrats warned the measure did not do enough to help workers and too much to bail out companies.

The U.S. Federal Reserve said Monday it will launch a barrage of programs, including limitless asset purchases, to help markets function more efficiently, which caused stock futures stateside to pare back drastic earlier losses.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit its lowest level in three years earlier in the session, before trading down around 620 points. The S&P 500 fell around 3% and the Nasdaq Composite was 1.3% lower.

In corporate news, Royal Dutch Shell announced Monday that it would cut its 2020 spending by $5 billion and suspend its share buyback in a bid to weather the recent collapse in oil prices.

British office space provider IWG tumbled 17% after suspending its dividend and a planned share buyback.

Virgin Money U.K. plunged another 22% as bank branches closed nationwide. The Bank of England and leading lenders insisted Monday that the financial services sector was in a "strong position" to support the country's economy, adding it would rebound from the coronavirus epidemic.

At the top of the European blue-chip index, French biotech firm Biomerieux climbed 13% and meal kit delivery company Hellofresh added 7%.

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