European shares flat, pegged back by utilities
* FTSEurofirst 300 flat, Euro STOXX 50 edges up 0.1 pct * Iberdrola fall hits European utility sector * Traders see equities falling this month * Traders keep longer-term positive equity outlook * PPR surges after results beat forecasts By Sudip Kar-Gupta LONDON, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Weak utility stocks held back European equities on Friday and traders said share markets in the region would be vulnerable to profit taking in the next month after a January rally. The FTSEurofirst 300 index was unchanged at 1,163.65 points around midday, while the euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index edged up 0.1 percent to 6,173.85 points. The STOXX Europe 600 utility index was the worst performing European sector, falling 0.7 percent. It was hit by a 2.3 percent fall in Spanish power company Iberdrola, which traders attributed to signs that lender Bankia may be looking to sell its stake in the company. Edward Allen, a fund manager at Thurleigh Investment Managers, said that while he had recently added to positions on European shares, he preferred U.S. and Asian equities. "We are more enthusiastic about American and Asian earnings and growth prospects," said Allen, whose firm manages around 270 million pounds' ($419.2 million) worth of assets. ECONOMIC WEAKNESS French luxury goods group PPR outperformed the flat European markets, surging 6.7 percent after announcing better-than-forecast results. "Good results once again, driven by a strong performance in luxury, notably at Bottega Veneta, which is coming far above expectations at both sales and earnings level," said a Paris-based trader, who declined to be named. The FTSEurofirst 300 has risen around 3 percent since the start of 2013. It has gained more than 20 percent from a low point last June, buoyed by a European Central Bank (ECB) pledge of new measures to tackle the region's sovereign debt crisis. However, signs that Europe's economic woes have not been resolved were highlighted on Thursday by data showing the euro zone economy contracted in the final quarter of 2012. Richard Edwards, head of HED Capital, said the export-led German economy remained most resilient to the weak macroeconomic backdrop, even though it shrank in the fourth quarter. Edwards advocated using any stock market weakness to buy positions on Germany's benchmark DAX equity index while selling Spanish, Italian and French stocks, with Spain and Italy still hit hard by the region's debt problems. "There's more growth going on in the United States than in Europe. We would use any weakness to buy Germany while selling Italy, Spain and France," he said. However, McLaren Securities' managing director Terry Torrison said any fall in equity markets this month would be relatively short-lived and limited. Torrison said the broader trend remained one of investors putting money into equities rather than cash or bonds, due to the better returns on offer from stock dividends. "There is some scepticism out there that February is not going to be a great month, but I think there's more room to run. The momentum is still intact," said Torrison.