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European stocks slide again as pandemic fears mount


By Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) - European shares fell again on Thursday, with travel stocks bearing the brunt, as a jump in coronavirus cases outside of China deepened fears of a looming pandemic that could dent global growth.

Heightening the concerns were profit warnings from blue-chip companies. Standard Chartered tumbled 3.7% after the bank said a key earnings target would take longer to meet as the epidemic adds to headwinds in its main markets of China and Hong Kong.

Anheuser-Busch InBev plunged 8% after the world's largest beer maker forecast muted growth in 2020 due in part to the outbreak.

"The uncertainties on global macro slowdown due to the coronavirus outbreak force us to a prudent allocation," said Angelo Meda, head of equities at Banor SIM in Milan.

"We continue to avoid deep cyclicals and companies with high debt, focusing on quality and sustainability of earnings," he added.

The pan-regional STOXX 600 index <.STOXX> fell 1.7% in its sixth day of declines in the past seven, putting the benchmark on course for the biggest weekly decline since May 2011.

Travel & leisure stocks <.SXTP> slumped 3.2%, down for the sixth straight session, as airlines and hotel groups dropped on concerns over demand.

Europe's media index <.SXMP> took a knocking as advertising major WPP tumbled 16%, on track for its worst day since August 1992, after saying it would target flat organic growth and profit margin in 2020. Shares in rival Publicis Groupe SA fell 2.8%

Banking stocks <.SX7P>, miners <.SXPP> and retail stocks <.SXRP> all dropped about 2.5%.

Italian shares fell <.FTMIB> as the country reported another 100 cases nationwide, taking the total in Europe's worst-hit region to more than 400.

Governments ramped up measures to battle a looming global pandemic as the number of infections outside China, the source of the outbreak, for the first time surpassed those appearing inside the country.

Meanwhile, euro zone money markets have started to fully price in a December European Central Bank interest rate cut as expectations for more stimulus ramp up.

"People are thinking that rate cuts, now already at low levels, might stimulate the economy," said Edward Park, deputy chief investment officer at London-based firm Brooks Macdonald.

"But what we really need is supportive measures that can be executed now, and that will be in the form of fiscal policy."

British household goods maker Reckitt Benckiser was among the few gainers, up 1.3%, after it launched a corporate revamp that will invest 2 billion pounds in its business over three years.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru and Danilo Masoni in Milan; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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