European shares hold near five-year highs before U.S. jobs data

Fri May 3, 2013 6:55am EDT

* FTSEurofirst dips 0.46 of a point

* Downside from weak NFP reading seen limited

* Hugo Boss slides after Permira sells stake

* RBS falls as revenues suffer despite profit

By Alistair Smout

LONDON, May 3 (Reuters) - European shares held near five-year highs on Friday as central bank stimulus continued to support equities over other asset classes.

Key U.S. non-farm payrolls (NFPs) data for April, due at 1230 GMT, is expected to show an increase of 145,000 jobs, with limited downside potential for equities even if the figure is weaker, according to Manoj Ladwa, head of trading at TJM Partners.

"If the numbers do come in around expectations, it'll be received relatively well, but if it's a lot lower, then the Federal Reserve has already indicated it's going to continue its bond purchasing programme," Ladwa said.

"The market is well supported at the moment from central banks globally, and with the ECB yesterday as well cutting rates, all these measures are very supportive of higher equity prices."

By 1009 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 was down 0.46 of a point at 1,206.07, just 0.3 percent off a five-year closing high at 1,207.83 set in March. The index has gained 5.1 percent since mid-April, despite a disappointing earnings season.

In the current quarter, 59 percent of companies in Europe have missed earnings expectations while the forecasts for the second quarter have been cut by 2.2 percent on average over the last 30 days, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data.

German fashion house Hugo Boss was Europe's top faller, down 5.9 percent after private equity firm Permira sold a further 10 percent stake in the company.

Deutsche Bank also downgraded Hugo Boss to "hold" from "buy" after first-quarter sales missed expectations on Thursday.

"Given the very weak conditions there's no surprise that domestically focused European companies are performing less well than their U.S. counterparts," said Henk Potts, market strategist at Barclays.

"Having said that, valuations in some way reflect that already, and the market is holding up. Selectively there are some opportunities in Europe, but we prefer the U.S. market in general, and the earnings season has cemented that view."

One such opportunity was Germany's Adidas, up 6.3 percent after the sports brand posted its highest-ever gross profit margin.

However, RBS slid 6.9 percent despite posting a pre-tax profit of 826 million pounds after the state-backed lender reported worse-than-expected operating results, hit by falling revenue at its markets business.

"On the surface, those numbers don't look too bad but some of their core businesses are not performing so great" Ladwa said, adding that 280 pence, its session low on Friday, was an attractive level to buy.

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

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