European stocks muted after a tumultuous month for markets


LONDON — European stocks were mixed on the last trading day of March, a month marked by global geopolitical and economic uncertainty after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 hovered around the flatline in early trade, but was on course to eke out a monthly gain for March. Media stocks added 0.5% while retail stocks dropped 1.9%.

Geopolitical uncertainty and concerns over rising inflation have dominated market sentiment in March. Both European and U.S. markets traded lower Wednesday following disappointment after talks between Russia and Ukraine, aimed at finding a solution to the conflict, again appeared to make little progress.

Russia said Tuesday it would reduce its military presence in some parts of Ukraine, but several countries — including the U.S. and U.K. — remained skeptical over Moscow’s pledge, and Russian attacks on Ukraine continued Wednesday.

Oil prices are also casting a shadow over sentiment. U.S. crude prices climbed more than 3% on Wednesday as Germany warned of potential rationing of natural gas due to disputes with Russia, and U.S. crude stockpiles fell.

Oil prices fell sharply during Asia trading hours overnight, however, before paring losses slightly as markets opened in Europe. International benchmark Brent crude futures were last down 3.5% to $109.50 per barrel. U.S. crude futures dropped around 4.5% to $102.92 per barrel.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is considering a plan to release 1 million barrels of oil per day from the strategic petroleum reserve for about six months, a source told NBC News. Global oil prices have spiked in volatile trade since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a month ago.

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Globally, U.S. stock futures were slightly higher in early premarket trading ahead of the last trading day of the month and quarter. Investors stateside are awaiting weekly jobless claims and personal income and spending data to be released Thursday morning. In Asia-Pacific markets overnight, shares were mixed.

NATO is set to release the military alliance’s annual report on Thursday and OPEC and non-OPEC allies, including Russia, will hold a ministerial meeting.

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— CNBC’s Eustance Huang contributed to this market report.



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