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European shares log first quarterly loss in eight; H&M slumps

By Reuters

By Susan Mathew and Anisha Sircar

-European shares slipped on Thursday, widening a quarterly loss that would be the first in two years, led by retail stocks after H&M’s profit fell far short of expectations.

Retail stocks lost 5% to log their worst day in more than two years. Sweden’s H&M plunged 12.9% after saying it would need to raise prices this year and reported weak quarterly profit amid high raw material and transportation costs.

The pan-European stock index fell 0.9%, tracking a global risk-off tone. Market optimism around peace talks fizzled out after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his forces were bracing for fresh Russian attacks in the southeast.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said he had signed a decree saying foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from April 1, and contracts would be halted if these payments were not made.

“Selling pressure on European stock markets picked up in the wake of the announcement as it is clear the Russian government is willing to inflict financial pain on countries that don’t want to play ball – governments have a difficult choice to make, pay in roubles or face a lights out scenario,” said David Madden, market analyst at Equiti Capital.

Putin’s move leaves Europe facing the prospect of losing more than a third of its gas supply. Germany has already activated an emergency plan that could lead to rationing.

However, Europe’s largest economy will continue paying for energy imports from Russia in euros, Germany’s finance minister said.

“Putin is turning up the heat on countries like Germany and Italy, as their economies are heavily reliant on natural gas from Russia,” Madden said. Germany’s DAX on Tuesday jumped 2.8% on hopes of a resolution to the war, but reversed nearly all of those gains as of Thursday.

Crude prices plunged on news that the United States was considering the largest ever release from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Oil and gas stocks shed 0.4%, scaling back some of the declines of 0.8% seen earlier in the day, after Putin’s comments. [O/R]

TotalEnergies SE and BP Plc fell 2% each.

Meanwhile, data showed price growth hit multi-decade highs in many European countries in March, intensifying a policy dilemma for the European Central Bank.

The STOXX 600 is down about 6.5% for the January-March period after seven straight quarters of gains, as investors remain circumspect in the face of the Ukraine crisis.

For the month, however, the index logged its first monthly gain of 2022. Analysts have attributed this partly to equities appearing to be a better hedge to inflation than bonds.