* Bargain hunting lifts markets
* Builders and energy providers underperform
* Samsung Elec ends higher despite early losses
SEOUL, Oct 22 (Reuters) - South Korean shares ended slightly lower on Monday, with bargain-hunting helping the KOSPI index pare early steep losses on disappointing results from U.S. firms General Electric and McDonald's Corp.
GE missed estimates and McDonald's posted its worst quarterly restaurant sales growth in nine years, sending U.S. stocks to their lowest since June.
The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) closed 0.1 percent lower, after falling as much as 1.7 percent at one stage to its lowest point since early September.
"The market had already anticipated poor earnings for the third quarter, so the initial shock wore off," said Eom Tae-woong, an analyst at Bookook Securities.
"Some investors are even optimistic about improving external conditions, as shown by U.S. housing and retail data and lower Spanish bond yields," he said.
South Korean builders underperformed, losing 2.6 percent, while energy providers fell 1.6 percent.
Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics ended 1 percent higher, recovering from an opening loss of 1.9 percent. The smartphone maker will release its third quarter earnings on Friday.
Decliners outnumbered gainers, 445 to 372.
The KOSPI 200 benchmark of core stocks closed down 0.2 percent, while the junior KOSDAQ edged 0.8 percent higher.
Move on day -0.12 percent
12-month high 2,057.28 14 March 2012
12-month low 1,750.60 19 Dec 2011
Change on yr +6.35 percent
All-time high 2,231.47 27 April 2011
All-time low 93.10 6 January 1981 (Reporting by Somang Yang and Seongwon Chang; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)