* European Commission sees record euro zone recession in 2020
* Healthcare stocks steady on AstraZeneca boost
* Risk seen that PEPP might be challenged - Economist
* Oil and gas sector leads declines (Adds details, updates to close)
By Sruthi Shankar and Ambar Warrick
May 6 (Reuters) - European shares ended slightly lower on Wednesday as a chilling GDP forecast undercut optimism about a swift economic recovery, even as several countries began easing coronavirus-related curbs.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index .STOXX ended down 0.4%, having stuck to a tight range as the European Commission forecast the euro zone economy would contract by a record 7.7% this year. to pressure were concerns over future asset purchase programmes by the European Central Bank after a ruling by Germany's highest court on Tuesday gave the ECB three months to justify its stimulus schemes. suspect that trust in the ECB's ability to forcefully fight the current crisis and to keep euro zone sovereign debt sustainable over the coming years might have suffered," Reinhard Cluse, chief European economist at UBS wrote in a note.
"We also see a risk that the ECB's Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) might be challenged in the German Constitutional Court."
Energy stocks .SXEP were the worst performers of the day, ending 3% lower after marking their biggest one-day gain in more than a month on Tuesday.
Swedish oil firm Lundin Energy LUNE.ST led sector losses after Norwegian rival Equinor EQNR.OL offered to sell its 4.88% stake in the firm. oil firm Aker BP (LON: BP ) AKERBP.OL also dropped after announcing a cut in its quarterly dividend payments by two-thirds due to the pandemic and the plunge in crude prices. European shares have climbed from lows touched in March, the STOXX 600 has been largely rangebound over the past three weeks as investors look for tangible signs of the coronavirus pandemic slowing down.
The threat of a renewed Sino-U.S. trade spat has also weighed on sentiment.
UK-listed AstraZeneca AZN.L jumped 3.8% after the U.S. FDA approved its diabetes drug as a treatment for heart failure. broader healthcare sector .SXDP gained on the back of better-than-expected quarterly results from Denmark's Novo Nordisk NOVOb.CO and German dialysis specialist Fresenius Medical Care FMEG.DE . earnings for companies listed on the STOXX 600 index are expected to drop by 30.6% in the first quarter and a sharper 44.9% in the second quarter, according to Refinitiv data. further signs of how the pandemic is causing economic damage, data showed orders for German industrial goods collapsed in March, while euro zone business activity plummeted in April.
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