European stocks were little changed this week as uncertainty in Cyprus and a political deadlock in Italy overshadowed better-than-estimated US and German economic data.
The STOXX Europe 600 Index fell 0.1 percent in a four-day week before the Easter holiday, after declining the most in four months the previous week. The gauge has still advanced 5 percent this quarter and traded to its highest level since June 2008, bolstered by US economic reports and monetary stimulus from central banks.
The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed above its record closing level set in October 2007. Durable-goods orders rose last month by the most in five months while the S&P/Case-Shiller Index of property values in 20 cities showed its biggest year-over-year increase since June 2006.
In Europe, German retail sales unexpectedly climbed last month, rising 0.4 percent. That followed a revised 3 percent in January and compared with the median economist forecast for 0.6 percent.
National benchmark indexes still fell in 14 of the 18 western European markets. The UK’s FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent, while France’s CAC 40 and Germany’s DAX slipped 1 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. Italy’s FTSE MIB Index dropped 4.4 percent, while Greece’s ASE Index lost 6.6 percent and the stock market in Cyprus remained closed for a second week.
Cyprus this week obtained a 10 billion euro international bailout after the country agreed to shut down its second-largest lender and impose losses on uninsured deposits of more than 100,000 euros (US$130,000). The deal replaced a previous eurozone demand to impose a levy on all bank accounts.
Stocks and the euro sank earlier in the week after media reported that Dutch Minister of Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the Euro Group of the bloc’s 17 finance ministers, said the Cyprus bailout should be viewed as a template for solving banking problems in the region. Shares pared losses when Dijsselbloem later clarified his remarks, saying that Cyprus is a “specific case with exceptional challenges.”
In Italy, bond yields surged after Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani ruled out creating a broad coalition following a failed meeting with rival politicians.
Bersani won a majority in the lower house of Italy’s parliament last month and needs additional support in the Italian Senate to form a government.
A gauge of eurozone banks declined 2.2 percent. Mediobanca SpA fell 11 percent in Milan, while Banco Popolare SC slid 8.5 percent. Societe Generale SA retreated 6.6 percent in Paris and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA sank 7.3 percent in Madrid.
Portuguese lenders also slumped as Moody’s Investor Service affirmed the country’s junk debt rating with a negative outlook, saying the economy will likely undergo a later-than-expected contraction this year.