European markets close lower amid Middle East tensions

European markets closed in the negative territory on Friday as tensions heightened between the U.S. and Iran, following attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 came off its session lows and closed 0.37% lower. Tech stocks underperformed with the sector down 1.75%, while the majority of other sectors were trading in the red. Utilities and energy, however posted minor gains.

On the last trading day of the week, worldwide focus remained on the Middle East, after Norwegian and Japanese-owned oil tankers suffered explosions near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday.

The U.S. military released footage which it claimed showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps removing an unexploded mine from the side of one of the stricken tankers – a claim Tehran strongly denies. The event put oil prices front and center, with Brent crude rising in afternoon trade.

On Wall Street, markets were slightly lower during the early trading hours, as investors digested weak data out of China, while monitoring a drop in semiconductor shares.

Stocks in Asia finished Friday mostly mixed to lower as investors continued to keep abreast of the situation. China’s Shenzhen composite led losses, finishing down 1.8% while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index continued to drop amid mass protests over a controversial extradition bill. Meanwhile, China’s industrial output growth slowed to a more than 17-year low of 5% in May, well below expectations.

Elsewhere, the International Energy Agency (IEA) slashed its estimate for global oil demand growth for the second consecutive month on Friday, citing intensifying trade concerns amid fears of a global recession.

European economic data was also in focus, as France reported its EU-harmonized consumer price index (CPI) for May at 0.9% year-on-year and 0.1% month to month, missing forecasts. Italian EU-harmonized CPI also came in at 0.9% year-on-year.

Speaking at a news conference in Luxembourg Friday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Italy has only days to give answers to the EU over its rising debt, in order to avert disciplinary proceedings from the bloc.

In terms of individual stocks, Britain’s Royal Mail was one of the Stoxx 600′s top performers, with its share price gaining 2.4% after the former state monopoly’s annual report announced changes to its remuneration policy due to shareholder opposition.

Sweden’s Lundin Petrolium continued to benefit from the oil and gas surge, rising 2.5%.

At the other end of the European blue chip index, shares of Swiss market expansion services provider DKSH tumbled over 9% after Credit Suisse cut its stock to an “underperform” rating.

European semiconductor stocks tumbled after Broadcom warned of a global slowdown in chip demand resulting from the U.S.-China trade war. AMS and Infineon fell 7.5% and 5.5% respectively during trade.

Source: CNBC