European Factors to Watch-Market seen consolidating strong gains
LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - European stocks are set to open broadly flat on Wednesday, consolidating the previous session's strong gains as investors digest a bumper crop of results and economic data to gauge the sustainability of the rally. At 0726 GMT, futures for Euro STOXX 50, Germany's DAX and France's CAC and Britain's FTSE 100 were all steady. Europe's bourses finished higher on Tuesday, with the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index closing up 1.1 percent at 1,171.73 points - its best finish in three weeks - thanks to forecast-beating German data. The upbeat investor sentiment continued overnight with Wall Street closing in on record highs and Asian shares hitting 18-month highs . However, Europe's heavyweight energy stocks could suffer from a retreat in oil prices after industry sources said Saudi Arabia expects to raise output in the second quarter. Analysts also say that for the market gains to be sustained in the longer term, economic data and corporate earnings need to catch up with the relatively upbeat investor sentiment. Tuesday's strong German ZEW investor sentiment index aside, so far there are few convincing signs of this happening, and the relatively subdued market volumes also underscore caution. "When you are making daily highs and the volume is incredibly thin, what is driving this market? It doesn't look like it's conviction," said Ioan Smith, strategist at Knight Capital. "People may not be necessarily selling cash (equity) holdings, but it certainly looks like some people at these levels are looking to take on protection." Investors snapped up around 40 percent more put options - which offer protection in case of a market fall - than upside call bets on the Euro STOXX 50 for March and April maturities on Tuesday, and twice as many for December, according to data from the Eurex exchange. To date, with around a third of STOXX Europe 600 companies having reported full-year results, 40 percent have missed on earnings, prompting analysts to downgrade 2013 forecasts by 2.3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine. Wednesday's crop of results yet again highlighted the importance of looking outside stagnant Europe for profit growth, with hotelier Accor among the beneficiaries. In contrast, French bank Credit Agricole slipped even deeper into the red than expected. The data calendar is also relatively heavy, including numbers on UK unemployment and U.S. housing starts. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- MARKET SNAPSHOT AT 0726 GMT: LAST PCT CHG NET CHG S&P 500 1,530.94 0.73 % 11.15 NIKKEI 11,468.28 0.84 % 95.94 MSCI ASIA EX-JP 561.32 1.04 % 5.76 EUR/USD 1.3423 0.27 % 0.0036 USD/JPY 93.24 -0.34 % -0.3200 10-YR US TSY YLD 2.026 -- 0.00 10-YR BUND YLD 1.644 -- 0.02 SPOT GOLD $1,606.54 0.15 % $2.33 US CRUDE $96.71 0.05 % 0.05 > GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares hit 18-month high on growth hopes > US STOCKS-M&A deals lift Wall Street shares nearer a record high > Nikkei hits 52-month high, but Japan Tobacco weighs > TREASURIES-U.S. bond prices fall as stock gains pare bids > FOREX-Yen edges up vs dollar; kiwi slides on RBNZ comments > PRECIOUS-Gold hovers around 6-mth lows, economic recovery hopes weigh > METALS-London copper bounces from 3-week low on rising risk appetite > Brent slips toward $117 as Saudi to raise crude output * BHP BILLITON : The miner appointed the head of its non-ferrous business as its CEO. The appointment came as BHP reported a 43 percent slump in first-half profit to $5.68 billion and took $3 billion in writedowns on its aluminium and nickel assets, in line with market forecasts. * LAFARGE : The world's largest cement maker, said on Wednesday it swung back to profit in the fourth quarter and said it secured close to 900 million euros ($1.2 billion) worth of divestments in 2012. * UNICREDIT : Italy's biggest bank by assets plans to close an extra 350 branches - or nearly 10 percent of its network - by 2015. * FERROVIAL : The Spanish infrastructure firm posted better-than-expected 2012 results as lucrative assets like Heathrow airport and toll roads in Canada compensated for its sluggish home market. * ACCOR : Europe's largest hotelier said it would hike its 2012 dividend by 17 percent on the back of higher operating profits, as robust emerging markets made up for a more difficult economic climate in Europe. * AKZO NOBEL : The Dutch paints and chemicals group reported fourth-quarter quarterly earnings before interest, tax and depreciation (EBITDA) of 363 million euros, slightly up from a year ago and ahead of analyst forecasts. The firm also unveiled new targets for coming years. * CREDIT AGRICOLE : The French bank posted a 6.5 billion-euro full-year loss as taxes on the sale of its Greek unit pushed the bank even deeper into the red than expected. * FRANCE TELECOM : The operator's revenue in the fourth quarter fell 3.2 percent to 10.92 billion euros on a comparable basis, hit by weakness in France and Poland. * KABEL DEUTSCHLAND : The group, a possible takeover target for Vodafone, said it would hike dividend to 2.50 euros per share for the year ending in June after posting broadly in-line results. * DSM : The Dutch food and chemicals group reported slightly weaker-than-expected fourth quarter results and said it was on track to achieve its 2013 earnings target of 1.4 billion euros. * DEUTSCHE LUFTHANSA : Germany's biggest airline posted a net profit of 990 million euros in 2012, boosted by the one-off sale of equity investments, and said it planned to suspend its dividend payment and fully retain its net profit as it bolsters restructuring. * TF1 : France's second-biggest private broadcaster said sales would slip by 3 percent this year as big advertisers cut spending. Rival M6 posted an 11 percent drop in full-year operating profit
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