The pan-European Stoxx 600 fell 2% by mid-afternoon deals, with basic resources dropping 3.4% to lead losses as all sectors and major bourses slid deep into negative territory.
The plunge for Europe reflected cautious sentiment in both Asia and the U.S.
Asian shares mostly declined Thursday, as Chinese tech stocks in Hong Kong came under pressure after regulatory fears resurfaced. Meanwhile, on Wall Street, the major U.S. stock indexes fell on worries about the global recovery.
The U.S. Labor Department’s latest jobless claims figures were a focal point for investors on Thursday, posting an unexpected rise as a recent run of job growth slowed.
First-time jobless claims totaled 373,000 for the week ended July 3, compared with the 350,000 Dow Jones estimate. The previous week’s level was revised up by 7,000 from 364,000 to 371,000.
Investors fled to the perceived safety of U.S. government bonds on Thursday, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury to its lowest level since late February.
Back in Europe, the European Central Bank revised its inflation target to 2% and said it would allow consumer prices to overshoot when deemed necessary.
In terms of individual share price action in Europe, Knorr-Bremse climbed 7.5% after the German brake manufacturer abandoned plans to buy a majority stake in automotive lighting company Hella.
At the bottom of the European blue chip index, Germany’s TeamViewer plunged 13.1% after announcing a weaker second-quarter billings growth forecast.
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– CNBC’s Ryan Browne, Thomas Franck and Eustance Huang contributed to this report.