European equities flatline as Dassault loss offsets defensives

Mon Oct 14, 2013 7:28am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 index steadies by midday

* Tech shares lead a sell-off in cyclicals

* Dassault slumps after warning on growth

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, Oct 14 (Reuters) - European equities were little changed on Monday as weakness in technology shares, after a warning from Dassault on revenue growth, offset gains in defensive stocks.

Concerns about any impact from the U.S. budget impasse and fears of slower growth in China hurt cyclicals most. Financials, mining, cars and technology sectors were all weaker. The auto sector fell 0.5 percent and banks 0.4 percent.

Figures showing China's exports fell in September hurt sentiment as the data disappointed investors who were banking on a continuation of recent positive numbers.

Those concerns prompted investors to take refuge in defensives, with utilities and telecoms up 0.6 percent and 1 percent respectively, supporting the FTSEurofirst 300, which was flat at 1,250.57 points by 1036 GMT.

The STOXX Europe 600 technology index was the top sectoral decliner, down 1.1 percent, led by a 7 percent drop in French software maker Dassault which warned of sluggish orders, especially in Asia.

"The risk continues to be on the downside if there is no agreement ahead of Thursday, which is everybody's line in the sand for the debt ceiling," Gerard Lane, Shore Captial equity strategist, said, referring the U.S. Treasury potentially losing its authority to borrow money on Oct. 17..

"If you are worried like I am, then you want to be very defensive," he said.

Equities had rallied on Friday on expectations a deal to end the U.S. fiscal crisis and avoid a debt default could be reached over the weekend. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell held talks that Reid later called "substantive", but investors remained risk-averse.

"It's a difficult start into the new week, with no real progress to resolve issues related to the U.S. shutdown and debt ceiling and disappointing Chinese exports data hurting sentiment," said Christian Stocker, strategist at UniCredit.

"Investors should focus on the earnings season. I expect a more positive tone from European companies as the economic environment in the region has stabilised in recent months."

Major U.S. companies announcing results this week include Citigroup, Intel, Johnson & Johnson and Goldman Sachs. The third-quarter European earnings season will gather momentum in the last week of October.

Johnson Matthey rose more than 4 percent to top the gainers' list, with traders citing a JP Morgan note, raising its recommendation to "overweight" from "neutral".

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