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European Stocks Close Lower Amid Focus On Earnings, Economic Data

European markets closed on a negative note on Thursday with investors largely staying cautious and reacting to quarterly earnings from big name companies and the latest batch of economic data from the euro area and the U.S.

Investors were also digesting the minutes of the latest policy meeting of the European Central Bank. The minutes showed the policymakers continued to assess that there was a case for maintaining stimulus and stressed that measures put in place in December will take time to take full effect.

The euro exchange rate remained a worry for policymakers, the minutes showed. Nominal yields could rise because of a better economic outlook and higher inflation expectations, the bank noted.

The pan European Stoxx 600 ended down 0.82%. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 slid 1.4%, France's CAC 40 lost 0.65% and Germany's DAX edged down 0.16%. Switzerland's SMI closed lower by 0.85%.

Among other markets in Europe, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia and Spain ended with sharp to moderate losses.

Czech Republic, Poland and Sweden posted modest losses, while Iceland and Turkey closed higher.

In the UK market, Rolls-Royce Holdings ended 8.7% down. Smith & Nephew lost about 6% after reporting that its fiscal 2020 profit before taxation declined to $246 million from last year's $743 million.

Barclays Group ended more than 5% down after reporting a sharp drop in 2020 annual profit. Imperial Brands, BP, Natwest Group, Lloyds Banking Group, Melrose, Royal Dutch Shell and HSBC Holdings lost 3 to 6%.

Auto Trader Group, Sage Group, Ashtead, Barratt Developments and Kingfisher closed notably higher.

In France, Technip ended more than 6% down. Atos also lost about 6%. Airbus Group shares ended nearly 3% down after the company posted a full-year operating loss of 510 million euros and withheld a divided.

Safran, ArcelorMittal, Orange, Valeo, Engie, STMicroElectronics and Credit Agricole ended lower by 1 to 3%, while Capgemini and Kering closed sharply higher.

In Germany, Thyssenkrupp ended nearly 5% down. MTU Aero Engines declined sharply after reporting that its fourth-quarter net income plunged to 6 million euros from last year's 134 million euros.

Lufthansa, Fresenius Medical Care, Covestro, Bayer, Allianz, Merck and Deutsche Bank also closed notably lower.

Volkswagen rallied more than 4.5%. Daimler moved up after reporting a rise in fiscal 2020 profit and lifting dividend. SAP also closed sharply higher, while BMW, Biersdorf and HeidelbergCement ended with modest gains.

In economic news, data from the Federal Customs Administration showed Switzerland's exports gained by a real 5.7% month-on-month in January, reversing a 5.9% decline in December. In November, exports rose 5.3%. Imports rose 1.4% monthly in January, after a 6.4% fall in the previous month.

In nominal terms, exports grew 5.4% in January and imports increased 3.3%.

Eurozone consumer confidence improved slightly in February, after easing in the previous month, preliminary figures from the European Commission showed.

The flash consumer confidence index climbed to -14.8 from -15.5 in January. Economists had expected a score of -15. The corresponding indicator for EU rose to -15.7 from -16.5 in the previous month.

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