UK Markets closed

Europe ends under pressure as political events develop; utility stocks, Spain's IBEX tumble

Holly Ellyatt
European equities are set to open mixed on Wednesday morning as investors keep a close eye on events in Catalonia.

European equities finished Wednesday's trading session slightly lower as investors continued to keep a close eye on political events in the region.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed down 0.08 percent yet off its session lows, while sectors pointed in different directions.

Looking to major bourses, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 and France's CAC 40 ended lower, off 0.01 percent and 0.08 percent respectively. Meanwhile, Germany's DAX bucked the negative trade, popping 0.53 percent by the close, supported by an uptick in German autos stocks.

In sector news, utilities became one of the worst performing sectors in Wednesday's trade, closing down 1.53 percent, after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May promised new caps on energy bills. Centrica dropped 6 percent by the close, while E.ON fell 2.76 percent.

Retail stocks underperformed the broader market after disappointing euro zone sales data. The figures saw a drop of 0.5 percent on the month for the second time in a row.

This adds pressure on the European Central Bank, due to meet later this month, as its economic forecasts are supported to a large extent on consumer spending.

Sticking with the consumer sector, Tesco announced that it would pay a dividend for the first time since the 2014-15 year when it was mired in crisis, indicating that it was showing further signs of recovery. Despite posting a 27.3 percent rise in first-half profit, shares of the U.K. retailer slipped 3.2 percent.

Commodities showed a mixed picture on Wednesday. Basic resources jumped 1.22 percent as a sector, supported by an uptick in metal prices, while oil stocks fell as investors doubt that the recent rally in prices will last. Around 4:30 p.m. London time (11:30 a.m. ET), however, crude prices fluctuated around the flat line, with Brent trading at $55.98 and WTI trading at $50.45.

Automakers meanwhile saw strong gains, rising 1.29 percent as a sector. Stocks were pushed higher by positive car sales data out of the U.S., on Tuesday.

Concerns over Catalonia continue

Spain's IBEX remained under pressure as a constitutional crisis grows in the country. The stock market fell 2.85 percent by the close on Wednesday, with Spanish lenders sinking to the bottom of the banking sector, with CaixaBank , Banco Sabadell , and Bankia all closing down more than 3.5 percent each.

The head of Catalonia's devolved government Carles Puigdemont, told the BBChis administration would declare independence from Spain "at the end of this week or the beginning of next. " Also, King Felipe issued a televised address Tuesday in which he condemned Catalonia's separatist leaders.

On the data front, IHS Markit said Wednesday that euro zone businesses expanded in September on strong demand. A final composite Purchasing Managers' Index rose to 56.7 from 55.7 in August, it said.

Looking overseas, U.S. stocks were relatively mixed when markets in Europe closed; while Asia-Pacific markets finished trade mixed to mostly higher.