Weak earnings halts five-day shares rally in Europe

Fri Apr 26, 2013 7:09am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.7 percent

* PPR falls after sales miss

* WPP slips after update

* Equities underpinned by stimulus expectations

By David Brett

LONDON, April 26 (Reuters) - Disappointing corporate earnings pushed European shares lower in midsession trade on Friday, halting momentum on indexes which had risen over the previous five sessions.

Recent gains have been driven by expectations that central banks will provide extra economic stimulus following weak data - particularly the European Central Bank when it meets next week.

By 1026 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 was down 7.87 points, or 0.7 percent, at 1,192.77.

French fashion firm and luxury goods group PPR missed first-quarter sales forecasts, hit by sluggish trading in Europe and slower growth in China. Its stock fell 6.3 percent.

Telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent shed 2.1 percent after posting a first-quarter loss, while Norwegian telecoms company Telenor fell 2.5 percent after lowering its revenue growth outlook after a slower quarter.

WPP shed 0.9 percent after its outlook tempered expectations for a stock that has outperformed FTSE 100 by around 16 pct in 2013.

"There is a hint of realism from management comments that certain pockets of economic recovery remain challenged," Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers

Market consensus of WPP is a buy, while top analysts in the stock expect full year earnings per share of 81.80 pence, 1.06 pct above market consensus, according to Thomson Reuters data, suggesting the company has little room to disappoint.

Thomson Reuters StarMine data showed 51 percent of the STOXX Europe 600 companies that have announced results so far have missed analysts' forecasts, lagging the United States, where only 27 percent companies have missed predictions.

"Earnings have recently been mostly lower than expected from bellwether stocks and despite the quantitative easing measures in place one has to wonder just how strong the company earnings would be without the stimulus programs," Jawaid Afsar, sales trader at SecurEquity, said.

RECENT GAINS

The FTSEurofirst 300 is approaching the five-year high of 1,207 it hit in late March before selling off and remains on track to record its best weekly rise in five months, helped by the stimulus being pumped in to markets by central banks.

"Europe remains vulnerable. With no impetus coming from domestic demand, it remains reliant on the fortunes of the global economic cycle," Credit Suisse said in a note.

"The vulnerability is magnified by the fact that domestic demand in core Europe is not offsetting the weakness in the periphery," it said.

The European Central Bank is expected to cut interest rates next week but that won't do much to pull the euro zone economy out of recession, a Reuters poll of 76 economists showed on Thursday.

Christian Schulz, Senior Economist, said in a note more likely than not, when the ECB acts it will cut rates by 25 basis points on top of some targeted initiatives to ease the credit crunch for small- and medium-sized enterprises at the periphery.

Monetary stimulus erodes the yield value of fixed income assets, encouraging investments in a stock market in which a bubble could form if corporate earnings flag.

Miners, which are particularly sensitive to changing economic conditions, led the index lower, shedding 1.8 percent.

With growth very much in focus investors will watch for the latest reading of U.S. GDP.

U.S. economic growth probably gained steam in the first quarter on strong consumer spending, but the momentum is already ebbing and could slow further as the impact of automatic government spending cuts kick in.

"Today's GDP data will be seen as crucial test to see if the recovery is on track in the U.S.," SecurEquity's Afsar said.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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