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European shares fall, record worst year since 2018

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European shares slipped in the last trading day of a rough year marked by geopolitical tensions and fears of a recession as central banks hike rates, while London stocks outperformed their counterparts on the continent due to heavy commodity exposure.

The STOXX 600 fell 1.3% in thin trading on Friday, as surging COVID-19 cases in China stoked concerns over global economic growth. The pan-European index fell 12.9% for the year, its worst performance since 2018.

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China-exposed luxury firms such as LVMH and Hermes International declined 2.4% and 2.7%, respectively.

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Industrials and banks weighed on the index, while tech stocks slid 1.8%, giving up some of the previous session’s sharp gains.

The rate-sensitive tech sector had rallied on Thursday, tracking gains in Wall Street peers as U.S. unemployment data signaled the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes might have started denting labor market strength.

Tech stocks are among the worst performers this year, down 28.4%, as major central banks raised interest rates.

The European Central Bank eased the pace of its interest rate increases earlier this month but stressed significant tightening remained ahead and laid out plans to drain cash from the financial system.

“This is the beginning of a new era, when central banks will be playing a more subdued role in the markets, with less liquidity available to fix problems – a more than necessary move that came perhaps too late, and too painfully,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank.

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“Given that there is still plenty of cheap central bank liquidity waiting to be pulled back, the situation may not get better before it gets worse in the first quarters of next year.”

Energy stocks bucked the downtrend this year, as crude prices rallied on tight supplies due to the Ukraine war.

Sharp commodity-linked gains and a weak sterling have also helped Britain’s export-heavy FTSE 100 outperform peers this year amid political and economic turmoil. The index was up 1.2% in 2022.

The United Kingdom saw the death of its longest-reigning monarch in 2022 and three prime ministers occupying Downing Street in the second half of the year amid a worsening cost of living crisis that sparked strikes and protests across Europe.

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The FTSE 100 closed 0.8% lower in half-day trading on Friday. German stocks clocked a yearly fall of 12.3%, its worst performance since 2018.

On an upbeat note, data showed Spanish December consumer prices rose 5.8%, their slowest annual pace this year, thanks to lower electricity prices compared to a year ago.

Telecom Italia (TIM) fell 3.8% after Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Thursday reiterated that the government wanted to take control of the former phone monopoly’s fixed network assets and safeguard employment levels.

(Reporting by Bansari Mayur Kamdar and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V, Vinay Dwivedi and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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