European shares end 2020 in a slump

It's been a year many would rather forget - with almost 2 million dead and the world economy in its worst recession in decades.

But many markets rode waves of stimulus from a number of central banks to award investors some of the best returns ever.

On the last day of the year it was something of a mixed picture though.

Asian shares edged up set to end 2020 at record highs with investors pinning hopes on a global economic recovery.

MSCI's gauge of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan rose around 0.18% on Thursday heading towards its latest closing peak.

The index is set for a fourth-quarter gain of over 19%.

But it was a different picture in Europe.

Shares fell as lockdowns overshadowed optimism around the rollout of vaccines.

Trading volumes were thin, with some major European markets closed for the new year.

Where markets were open, they failed to follow their Asian peers higher.

The UK's FTSE 100 fell 1.7%.

It's on course for its worst year since the 2008 financial crisis and has suffered a fresh blow as millions more people have been put under the tightest restrictions to counter a new virus variant.

The pan-European STOXX 600, which was closed on Thursday (December 31), recorded a 3.8% drop in 2020 as the pandemic and worries about Brexit curbed improving sentiment.

Germany's DAX though ended the year with a 3.5% gain.

It was helped by strong demand for technology stocks and better growth prospects with major trading partner China.

One of 2020'a major winners, Bitcoin was at just under $29,000 on Thursday.

The world's largest cryptocurrency has almost quadrupled in value this year amid heightened interest from bigger investors.