U.S. budget worries rattle European shares

Fri Dec 21, 2012 3:56am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.3 percent
    * U.S. edges closer to "fiscal cliff"
    * ADP falls on earnings cuts
    * Infineon rises as JP Morgan upgrades

    By David Brett
    LONDON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - European shares fell in early
trade on Friday on signs that a deal to avoid tax hikes and
spending cuts that could tip the United States into recession
might not be the forgone conclusion markets had broadly thought.
    Republican leader John Boehner failed to get support from
his party for his "Plan B" alternative to doing a deal with
President Barack Obama, throwing attempts to avoid the so-called
fiscal cliff into disarray. 
    By 0825 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 was down 2.81
points, or 0.3 percent at 1,139.99, taking its cue from
overnight falls in U.S. stock futures and Asia.
    "The market is still too complacent and the odds are
increasing that a deal will not get done in the immediate
future," Saxo Bank Chief Economist Steen Jakobsen said.
    "That leaves European equities (in terms of earnings
multiples) vulnerable to the negative exposure of the fiscal
drag. And even a compromised deal is going to do very little to
structurally reform anything." 
    Despite some jitters, the market has largely traded on the
assumption that a U.S. budget deal would eventually be struck.
European shares have risen more than 20 percent since June as
central banks have stepped in to backstop the global economy. 
    That has left companies struggling to keep up with
price-to-earnings multiples which have re-rated over the past
six months to post-credit crisis highs of 12.8 times.
    European equities enjoyed their 11th consecutive week of
inflows from U.S. funds, according to Thomson Reuters Lipper
data, but the pace slowed. 
    Analysts expect company earnings in developed Europe to grow
by around 13 percent in 2013, according to Thomson Reuters
Starmine data, while recent Reuters polls saw the euro zone's
blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index rising 10 percent to
end 2013, both of which Saxo's Jakobsen said appear optimistic.
    
    Aeroports de Paris, operator of the French
capital's Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, shed 7 percent
after it cut its medium-term earnings targets late on Thursday.
 
    "Risk assets look vulnerable over the holiday trading
period. The recent performance of key benchmarks has priced in a
satisfactory outcome to the U.S. fiscal discussions, which is
far from a done deal," Peel Hunt strategist Ian Williams said.
    Basic resource stocks were the top fallers, down 0.7
percent having rallied 8.4 percent so far this month.
    The technology sector has gained 9 percent so far in
December, but with its 14-day relative strength index (RSI) - a
widely-used technical momentum indicator - at 73.4, where 70 and
above are considered as 'overbought' it fell 0.6 percent.
    Infineon Technologies, however, outperformed the
sector, rising 1.2 percent after JP Morgan upgraded the stock to
"overweight" from "neutral".
    "With worst cuts to estimates behind us, no reason to sit on
sidelines. With considerable earnings leverage to the next peak
and with the company having strengthened position in core autos
& industrial markets, we upgrade the stock," JP Morgan said in a
note.
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