European shares inch lower; all eyes on U.S. jobs

Fri Jan 4, 2013 7:46am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.2 pct, Euro STOXX 50 down 0.3 pct

* Trend still very strong, investors buying dips -TradingSat

* SocGen analysts see robust payrolls data sparking rally

* Worries on ultra-low credit spreads seen boosting stocks

By Blaise Robinson

PARIS, Jan 4 (Reuters) - European shares slipped on Friday as investors cashed in some recent strong gains after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve revealed concern about the bank's quantitative easing programme.

Investors were also reluctant to increase their exposure to risk ahead of U.S. non-farm payrolls data for December, due later in the session, despite Thursday's forecast-beating jobs data for the private sector.

At 1138 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.2 percent at 1,160.22 points, retreating from near-two-year highs hit in the previous session.

The euro zone's blue chip Euro STOXX 50 index was down 0.3 percent, at 2,693.15 points.

Both benchmark indexes - which gained 13 and 14 percent respectively in 2012 - have still risen around 2.2 percent since the start of January despite Friday's dip.

"The trend remains very strong, a sign that what we've seen since June is the start of a long-term bull market. There is so much cash on the sidelines that every pull-back is quickly being bought," said Alexandre Tixier, analyst at TradingSat.

"We recommend buying the dogs of 2012, the stocks that have been hammered, such as Peugeot, or Pages Jaunes ."

Minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting released on Thursday showed some voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee were increasingly worried about the potential risks of the Fed's asset purchases on financial markets, one of the main engines propelling stocks higher in 2012.

U.S. non-farm payrolls data, due at 1330 GMT on Friday, is expected to show employers added 150,000 jobs last month. On Thursday, the ADP National Employment Report showed the private sector added 215,000 jobs last month, beating economist forecasts by a big margin.

Analysts at Societe Generale are betting that the non-farm payrolls will show the creation of 225,000 jobs last month, well above the consensus.

"Labour market conditions probably improved substantially in the final month of 2012 ... we expect risky assets to rally intraday due to the positive surprise element," the analysts wrote in a note.

Cyclical mining shares were the top losers on Friday, with Rio Tinto down 1.7 percent and BHP Billiton dropping 1.2 percent.

Big pharmaceutical stocks, seen as defensive plays, gained ground, with GlaxoSmithKline up 0.6 percent and Novartis rising 0.4 percent.

VOLATILITY INDEX FALLING

Around Europe, UK's FTSE 100 index was flat, Germany's DAX index was down 0.2 percent, and France's CAC 40 was 0.4 percent lower.

Despite Friday's dip, however, the Euro STOXX 50 Volatility Index, or VSTOXX, Europe's widely used measure of stock market risk aversion, was down 2 percent at 17.20, signalling a rise in investor appetite for stocks even though indexes retreated.

"European stocks have been rising mostly because fear has been receding and with it, aversion for equities. A number of investors are now getting concerned about missing this rally," said Pierre-Yves Gauthier, head of strategy at AlphaValue.

"We're convinced that equities have a lot to recover from the last two years dominated by fear. But in the short term, it may just be that markets have moved into complacency territory."

Gauthier sees equities benefiting throughout the year from a rotation out of corporate bonds, which are showing signs of overheating, and into stocks.

"A number of fund managers are becoming concerned about all-time low 'BBB' credit spreads, and this should play out in favour of stocks," he said.