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European markets retreat amid Italian government uncertainty, trade jitters

Sam Meredith

European stocks provisionally closed lower Wednesday, amid Italian government uncertainty and souring market sentiment over ongoing trade talks between the world's two biggest economies.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 was down 1.09 percent, with all sectors and major bourses in negative territory.

Italy's FTSE MIB was among the top fallers among national indexes, down more than 1.3 percent as a sell-off in the country's government bonds resumed on Wednesday. Uncertainty over the creation of an anti-establishment government in Rome has prompted a sharp fall in the country's benchmark index.

Meanwhile, Germany's DAX index, which typically finds support amid currency weakness, slipped 1.47 percent.

Europe's basic resource stocks led the losses, down 2.44 percent amid elevated tensions in trade talks . The European Union's trade chief said Tuesday that the bloc's efforts to persuade Washington not to impose tariffs on imports of EU steel and aluminum appeared to have failed.

President Donald Trump has granted EU producers an exemption from import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, depending on the outcome of talks. The exemption expires on June 1. Anglo American was the worst performer in the sector and the pan-European benchmark, down 5 percent.

Britain's Marks & Spencer surged towards the top of the index after it reported its latest figures on Wednesday. The 134-year-old company posted a second straight decline in annual profit and said it urgently had to modernize in order to not to risk fading away. Nonetheless, its shares rose over 5 percent as results were largely in line with expectations.

Trade talks

On Wall Street, stocks dropped after retail giant Target reported earnings that fell short of expectations and trade talks with China remained uncertain.

Trump said Tuesday he was not satisfied with recent negotiations between the U.S. and China. His comments followed remarks over the weekend from U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who said Washington and Beijing's current trade dispute was "on hold."

The U.S. president also threatened to fine ZTE Corp and warned he might shake up its management, amid broader plans for the White House to roll back more severe penalties against the Chinese telecom company.

In data, sterling slumped to a fresh 2018 low on Wednesday after weaker-than-anticipated U.K. inflation cast doubt over whether the Bank of England would raise interest rates this year. Annual consumer price inflation slowed to 2.4 percent — its weakest level since March 2017.

Meanwhile, euro zone consumer confidence fell to 0.2 points in May from 0.3 points the previous month.