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European equity markets are trading lower Wednesday, as the U.S. Independence Day holiday and the close of trade bring about an opportunity for some consolidation following the three-day rally. Weaker-than-expected services data from the U.K. and Germany has been adding to pressure, following on from similarly disappointing numbers in China overnight. The Spanish IBEX (INDEX: ^IBEX ) is one of the worst-performing indices on the continent, down around 1.3%.
Corporate news is relatively thin on the ground today as most of the attention once again turns to the LIBOR scandal in London, particularly what ex-CEO Bob Diamond will have to say about the affair when he goes in front of a parliamentary committee today. He has already released memos suggesting he was indirectly pressured by the Bank of England and senior government officials to artificially lower the company's LIBOR submissions, and expectations are that today's hearing will have him naming names.
The French supermarket chain Carrefour (NASDAQOTH: CRRFY.PK) was making some of the sharpest losses this morning, down 5.5% as strong selling pressure emerges despite slightly better-than-expected eurozone retail sales data. The release showed gains in France, Ireland, and Portugal, helping to offset weaker numbers in Germany.
Dutch firm AEGON (NYSE: AEG ) was also suffering heavy losses today, down 3.2% as broader caution of the financial sector is exacerbated after a number of disappoint numbers and stock downgrades for asset managers, particularly in London. This comes just weeks after the company admitted that insurers have been selling overly complex products to improve profit margins, and that it now intends to provide the majority of its products directly to customers rather than through intermediaries.
With such thin corporate news, broker recommendations were pushing some of the largest price moves today, notably E.ON (NASDAQOTH: EONGY.PK) which slipped 2.6% after JPMorgan Chase cut its shares from "overweight" to "neutral," and Citigroup reduced its recommendation from "neutral" to "sell."
This comes despite the company increasing its profit outlook yesterday following a deal with Russia's Gazprom on natural gas prices, with both JP Morgan and Citigroup suggesting that the stock price may be now be too high and could "pause for breath."
Despite the broader weakness in the market, there were still a number of names making good gains today. Cimpor Cimentos de Portugal (NASDAQOTH: CDPGY.PK) climbed almost 9% after news that Brazil's antitrust regulator, Cade, is likely to demand Votorantim Cimentos to sell its stake in the Portuguese cement company.
Across the continent, attention is now looking to tomorrow's European Central Bank rate decision and Friday's U.S. non-farm payroll numbers.
As always, this morning's European news saw some winners and losers -- and perhaps some European buying opportunities. Indeed, legendary investor Warren Buffett has recently spent more than $1 billion buying the stock of a prominent European large cap.
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