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European shares end lower as healthcare declines outweigh miner gains

German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt

By Amruta Khandekar and Shreyashi Sanyal

(Reuters) -European shares erased gains by the closing bell to finish lower on Monday as AstraZeneca led falls among healthcare stocks that outweighed gains by Generali and among miners buoyed by hopes of more policy stimulus from China.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index dipped 0.2%, reversing gains of some 0.4%, to kick off the first day of the second half of the year on the back foot.

Shares British drugmaker AstraZeneca plunged 8.0%, clocking its worst day since March 2020 after as analysts said the benefits from its experimental lung cancer drug may not be as pronounced as hoped.

The broader healthcare index fell 2.0%, leading falls among sectors.

Miners were the top sectoral gainers, up 2.2% as most metal prices rose on hopes that China's government will deliver a stronger economic stimulus package after data showed the country's factory activity slowed in June.

Assicurazioni Generali hit its highest in over a year, last up 3.4% after news that Italy's insurance regulator had authorised investor Delfin to raise its stake to above 10% in the company sparked anticipation that an investor battle for control will resume.

Shares of Mediobanca, which counts Delfin as its single biggest shareholder, rose 1.6%.

The moves helped Italy's financials-heavy benchmark FTSE MIB climb 0.8%, a bright spot among other bourses in the region.

The index was at its highest since 2008 - a level it also hit on Friday.

The broader STOXX 600 had gained 8.7% in the first half of the year, largely due to strong gains early into 2023. However, the rally petered out later as China's weak economic recovery and evidence of slowing growth in the euro zone took a toll on sentiment.

"A muted atmosphere prevails across stock markets this afternoon," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at online trading platform IG.

"After the caution of the first half, a lot of investors will be looking to put their money to work, even if it comes after six months of solid gains."

Fresh reports on Monday painted a dour picture of the euro zone economy, with a survey showing manufacturing activity in the region contracted faster than initially thought in June, as persistent policy tightening by the European Central Bank squeezed finances.

Italy's manufacturing sector contracted in June at the steepest rate in over three years, a report showed, while France's manufacturing sector continued contracting, though the decline was slower than expected.

(Reporting by Amruta Khandekar and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru and Matteo Allievi in Gdansk; Editing by Nivedita Bhattacharjee, Janane Venkatraman and Conor Humphries)