Healthcare hit as European stocks end winning run

LONDON Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:38am EST

LONDON Dec 13 (Reuters) - European shares slipped from 18-month highs on Thursday, led by weakness in heavyweight healthcare stocks, after uncertainty over U.S. budget talks prompted investors to cash in on eight-session winning streak.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index provisionally closed down 0.5 percent at 1,133.89 points, just off the multi-month high of 1,141.32 points reached earlier this week.

The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index, meanwhile, fell 0.3 percent to 2,623.30 points.

Investors said a stalemate in talks among U.S. politicians over reaching a deal to avoid growth-curbing austerity measures, the so-called "fiscal cliff", was the main reason for the fall in equity markets.

"The market is very defensive ahead of the fiscal cliff problems, which will no doubt get sorted but it's a question of when," said Berkeley Futures associate director Richard Griffiths.

"Any reasonable rally just gets sold into. People are playing it safe before the year-end," he added.

Healthcare stock AstraZeneca fell 3 percent to take the most points off the FTSEurofirst 300 index, after a clinical study showed that one of its arthritis treatment drugs was inferior to that of a rival.

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