European shares edge lower, Aviva hit hard

LONDON, March 7 Thu Mar 7, 2013 11:41am EST

LONDON, March 7 (Reuters) - European shares ended slightly lower on Thursday, held back by a post-results slump for British insurer Aviva, and some said they expected the pullback to continue in the short term.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index, which hit a 4-1/2 year intraday high of 1,193.35 points on Wednesday, provisionally closed down 0.1 percent at 1,185.26 points.

The main focus was on the European Central Bank which left its benchmark interest rate unchanged, as was widely expected, and offered no hints about monetary policy easing in the months ahead.

While the index saw no clear reaction to the decision, it pared back gains during the press conference when ECB President Mario Draghi was non-committal when asked whether he felt equity markets were fairly priced at current levels.

"It certainly wouldn't be surprising to us if we were to see a pull-back in equities, at least in the short-term," Henk Potts, market strategist at Barclays, said.

"But in saying that fundamentals remain very supportive indeed, therefore we'd encourage investors to continue to use any weakness to increase their exposure to an asset class that's likely to outperform, at least in the medium to long term."

Aviva's shares slid 12.9 percent, one of the biggest drags on the FTSEurofirst 300 index, after it slashed its 2012 dividend by more than a quarter to repay debt.

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