European shares near peaks, pressured by earnings

Fri Jan 18, 2013 6:33am EST

* EuroSTOXX 50 flat, in sight of 18-month high

* Earnings concerns prompt some profit-taking

* Charts show scope for further gains after consolidation

By Toni Vorobyova

LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Major European equity indexes consolidated near multi-month peaks on Friday, with miners supported by strong Chinese data but concerns ahead of the corporate earnings season prompting some investors to lock in profits.

European companies start reporting next week. They are expected to post a 1 percent year-on-year drop in fourth-quarter earnings, on average, against a forecast for 2.1 percent for U.S. peers, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.

With the EuroSTOXX 50 index of euro zone blue chips up some 12 percent since mid-November, some investors are turning more cautious.

The index was broadly steady at 2,720.06 at 1114 GMT on Friday, in sight of last week's 18-month high of 2,735.36 points. The broader, pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was flat at 1,165.74 points, near 2-year peaks.

"The rally from November is still intact, but it's getting a bit tired now," said Stewart Richardson, chief investment officer at RMG.

"Now is not a great time to buy, we are just saying take a back seat. If anything, look to book some profits here, and if you are not willing to do that, maybe buy some downside protection."

To reduce the cost of any such protection, strategists at BNP Paribas recommend buying an at-the-money February put on the EuroSTOXX 50 and selling the equivalent contract on U.S. S&P 500 or on the German DAX, where they expect economic growth - and thus corporate earnings - to hold up better.

On the flip side, though, the lower expectations for both the economy and earnings in Europe leaves plenty of scope for upside surprises.

French car maker Renault added 2.7 percent after pledging a return to sales growth this year.

The basic resources sector, meanwhile, rose 0.4 percent after data showed Chinese economic growth accelerating for the first time in two years in December, boosted by stronger retail sales and industrial output.

Overall, sentiment remained relatively upbeat, with implied volatility on the EuroSTOXX 50 - a crude barometer of risk aversion - down 1.4 percent on the day and near five-year lows .

"We are still in the positive context ... The market has more upside. A short-term correction is possible, the move from November can have a small retracement between 2,600 and 2,550 (points on EuroSTOXX 50), that's the possible maximum retracement, but this will not change the positive message of the market at the moment," said Riccardo Ronco, head of technical analysis at Aviate Global.

"I think 2,800, may be even 2,900, is a possibility."

He recommended positioning for any further gains by buying financials, including Spanish and Italian names, while avoiding retailers and energy companies.