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European Stocks Settle Sharply Lower On Virus Jitters

European stocks plunged sharply on Friday following a heavy sell-off on reports a new and possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa.

The news about the new coronavirus variant has raised concerns that the pandemic could continue to wreak havoc on the global economy.

Although not much is known so far about the variant detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, scientists are of the view that the new variant may be able to evade immune responses or make it more transmissible.

According to reports, the World Health Organization will hold a "special meeting" to discuss if the heavily mutated strain will become a variant of interest or a variant of concern.

Bank stocks declined sharply, tracking falls in bond yields and energy stocks tumbled after crude oil prices fell on concerns about outlook for energy demand. Travel stocks lost ground as the U.K. issued a temporary flight ban on six African countries. The European Commission has called for its member countries to interrupt travel from southern Africa.

The pan European Stoxx 600 tumbled 3.67%. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 plummeted 3.64%, Germany's DAX slid 4.15% and France's CAC 40 tanked 4.75%, while Switzerland's SMI declined 2.01%.

Among other markets in Europe, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey ended sharply lower, with their benchmarks falling 2 to 5%. Czech Republic and Denmark ended notably lower.

In the UK market, IAG plunged 14.85% and Rolls-Royce Holdings tanked 11.6%. Shares of Easy Jet and TUI also ended with sharp losses.

Melrose Industries, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Informa, Standard Chartered, Whitbread, ICP, Compass Group and Prudential lost 8 to 10.25%.

BP, Natwest Group, Lloyds Banking Group, Anglo American Plc, ITV, Barclays, HSBC Holdings, ABRDN, Coca-Cola HBC, Burberry Group, Antofagasta, Aviva and Royal Dutch Shell declined 5 to 8%.

Ocado Group shares gained 4.6%. B&M European Value Retail, Croda International Group, United Utilities and Bunzl posted moderate gains.

In the French market, Unibail Rodamco, Airbus, Safran, Air France-KLM, Accor, Vinci, Sodexo, Renault, Technip, Michelin, Faurecia, Kering, Societe Generale and ArcelorMittal tumbed 7 to 11%.

BNP Pariba, Saint Gobain, LVMH, Essilor, Publicis Groupe, Credit Agricole and STMicroElectronics also ended with sharp losses.

In Germany, MTU Aero Engines, Deutsche Post, Covestro, Munich RE, Continental, BMW, Daimler, BASF, Allianz, Adidas, Siemens, Porsche Automobil, Volkswagen, Deutsche Wohnen, SAP and Bayer lost 4 to 11%.

Infineon Technologies declined more than 4% after the semiconductor company announced the appointment of Jochen Hanebeck as the new Chief Executive Officer, effective April 1.

In economic news, Germany's import price inflation accelerated to the highest since early 1980 due to second oil price crisis, data published by Destatis revealed on Friday.

Import prices grew 21.7% yearly in October, following 17.7% in September. Economists had forecast an annual growth of 19.6%. This was the highest annual rate seen since January 1980.

On a month-on-month basis, import prices rose 3.8%, following a 1.3% rise in the previous month. Prices were forecast to grow 2%.

France's consumer confidence remained unchanged in November, preliminary data from the statistical office INSEE showed. The consumer confidence index reading was 99.0, same as in October. Economists had expected 98.0. In July, the score was 100.

Preliminary data from the State Secretariat For Economic Affairs, or SECO, showed Switzerland's gross domestic product grew 1.7% from the second quarter, when the economy expanded 1.8%. Economists had forecast 1.6% increase.

Compared to the same quarter a year ago, GDP increased 4.1% after an 8.6% growth in the previous quarter. Economists had forecast 3.2% expansion.

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