European shares fell sharply on Tuesday, with travel and leisure stocks leading the market lower after explosions in Brussels killed several people.
Explosions tore through the departure hall of Brussels airport, and a separate blast hit a metro station in the capital shortly afterwards, the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said.
The STOXX Europe 600 Travel and Leisure index fell 2.4%, the top sectoral decliner, with shares in easyJet, Ryanair, Accor, TUI and IAG down by 3.1-4.2%.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 1.1% at 1,324.35 points, while Belgium’s benchmark share index fell nearly 1%. Across Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 1.2%, while France’s CAC dropped 1.3%.
Investors remained focused on unfolding events in Brussels, although there were some positive data releases.
French private sector activity expanded in March at the fastest pace in five months as a stronger than expected rebound in services helped offset weakness in manufacturing, while growth in Germany’s private sector was steady in March, also helped by a solid upturn in the services industry, separate surveys showed.
Bucking the trend, Partners Group shares rose 3.7% after the global private markets investment management firm proposed an increased dividend and said its fiscal year revenues increased by 8% despite foreign exchange headwinds.
Oil prices also fell on Tuesday. It had risen earlier in the session following a drop in U.S. inventory levels that helped ease some of the concern around oversupply that could dampen future price recoveries.
Brent crude futures fell 14 cents to $41.40 a barrel by 0909 GMT, having risen to a session high of $41.75. Brent has gained more than 50% from 12-year lows hit in January.
U.S. May crude futures were down 11 cents at $41.41 a barrel.
“The stocks (fall) in Cushing (U.S. oil delivery hub) helped … but obviously now you have these headlines from Brussels and that can lead to some risk-off positioning. But the movements for now are not very significant,” Petromatrix strategist Olivier Jakob said.
The dollar index and gold, perceived to be less risky options at times of geopolitical or financial uncertainty, rallied in price, while equities and other industrial commodities such as copper came under pressure following the explosions.
The demand for safe-haven assets also prompted top-rated German bond yields to fall to near a two-week low.
The European benchmark yield, which moves inversely to prices, fell 4 basis points to 0.18%, its lowest since March 10. The fall led a broad rally across most of the region’s debt markets after reports of the explosions.
“The tragic events in Brussels have led to a flight-to-quality, which we are seeing in the bond markets,” said Nick Stamenkovic, a bond strategist at RIA Capital Markets.