European shares dip, weak economy knocking earnings

Wed Nov 21, 2012 5:39am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.1 percent

* Cautious outlook hits Johnson Matthey

* Staffing firms knocked by Randstad warning

* Br. Land boosted by Morgan Stanley upgrade

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - European shares fell on Wednesday in choppy trade, with the poor economic backdrop still weighing on companies' performance while investors await news on a deal to unlock aid for debt-stricken Greece.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday that lower interest rates and an expanded European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) could fill Greece's financing gap, a source at the session told Reuters.

Separately, the spokesman for the Greek government said the country's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will hold talks with Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday.

The FTSEurofirst 300 was down 0.1 percent at 1,093.60 by 1017 GMT in thin trading volumes that were just 20 percent of the 90-day daily average. Volumes were expected to remain subdued ahead of a U.S. public holiday on Thursday for Thanksgiving.

"Until such time as we get a little bit of clarity on when this Greek aid is released... I think markets, especially since we're heading into Thanksgiving tomorrow, will trade fairly quietly," Michael Hewson, senior markets analyst at CMC Markets, said.

Corporate earnings newsflow on Wednesday highlighted the problems facing the euro zone, with data released last week showing the region is already back in recession.

Johnson Matthey, topped the list of FTSEurofirst 300 fallers, off 6.4 percent in brisk trade, after the British specialty chemicals firm issued a cautious outlook, dented by weakness in Europe and a volatile U.S. truck market.

Trading volume in Johnson Matthey stood at 98 percent of its 90-day daily average.

Randstad also suffered sharp losses, off 3.5 percent, after the Dutch staffing company warned of a continued drop in sales, especially in Europe, and changed its dividend policy, prompting analysts to expect a dividend cut.

The news had a negative knock-on effect on its peers, with Adecco and Michael Page off 1.6 percent and 0.9 percent respectively.

British Land, meanwhile, saw good gains, ahead 2.2 percent, with traders citing an upgrade to "overweight" from "equal weight" by Morgan Stanley, the day after the real estate investment trust's first-half results, as the driver of the outperformance.

The upgrade for British Land also helped peer Land Securities to rise 1.4 percent.

The euro zone's blue chip Euro STOXX 50 shed 0.2 percent to 2,504.84, with charts pointing to further lacklustre trade for the index, which has been stuck in a near 200-point range since early September.

"I think we're going to be stuck in this range for the time being. I don't expect anything too exciting on the upside," Lynnden Branigan, technical analyst at Barclays Capital, said.

Branigan's initial target, in the case of a close above the 50-day moving average at 2,511, is the Nov 7 high at 2,560.

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