European shares at 5-year highs, cheered by Philips results
* FTSEurofirst 300 steady around 5-year highs
* Philips, AkzoNobel, SAP rise after results
* Weekly flows to European equities strongest in 2 yrs -EPFR
By Toni Vorobyova
LONDON, Oct 21 (Reuters) - European shares steadied around five-year highs on Monday, bolstered by a crop of solid corporate earnings but with investors reluctant to put on big bets at the start of a bumper U.S. data week.
Shares in Philips jumped 6.5 percent after the healthcare, lighting and consumer appliances group reported a near tripling in its third-quarter net profit.
Investors were also encouraged by numbers from paints and chemicals company AkzoNobel, which rose 9 percent, with analysts at ING saying that conservative full-year guidance left room for upside surprises.
German business software company SAP gained 5.3 percent after maintaining its full-year outlook, despite currency risks.
"The sell-side is still very pessimistic on European equities ... We think that is a bit too pessimistic given that the outlook for the euro area is that growth will pick up from here, so we see some nice potential in European equities," said Peter Garnry, equity strategist at Saxo Bank.
Although the European third-quarter results season is less than a tenth of the way through, the early numbers have been fairly positive, with earnings on average 3.3 percent above forecasts, in contrast to a broadly in-line performance in the United States, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.
"The drivers for Q3 are mixed: the macro backdrop in developed markets has improved further, and leading indicators for the euro zone in particular have seen a synchronised upturn, but emerging markets have deteriorated," analysts at UBS said in a note, highlighting Pearson, Melia Hotels and ITV among stocks that could surprise on the upside.
"Elsewhere, FX becomes a headwind; commodity prices have picked up, which should provide some support to the miners; but our oil & gas team expect a tricky results season ahead."
The FTSEurofirst 300 was flat at 1,277.88 points by 0958 GMT, after hitting fresh five-year highs.
Data from EPFR showed European equity funds enjoyed their biggest weekly inflows in two years in the week to Oct. 16.
"If you look at equities versus the alternatives it's still a good long term bet and people are buying into the strength," said Pieter Fourie, head of global equities at Sanlam Private Investments, whose top picks include France's LVMH.
"Throughout the year we've become more constructive on equities in terms of our asset allocation because clearly at the margin economic numbers are holding up quite well ... and we want to position ourselves for the next 18 months to 3 years."
Traders said markets were likely to be jittery pending a slew of delayed U.S. economic data, starting with existing home sales on Monday and including non-farm payrolls on Tuesday.
A last-minute U.S. fiscal deal has averted the risk of a sovereign default for now, enabling the government to reopen and ending a near three-week drought of official data releases.
The delays in the data coupled with the economic fallout from the government shutdown are now expected to push back any policy tightening from the U.S. Federal Reserve, to the relief of equity markets where investors have recycled much of the cheap Fed cash.
"Uncertainty is still there but it's less than it was ... we have had the (U.S. debt) deal and we've reached new highs, our expectation is still that we will have a year-end rally," said Saxo's Garnry. "Unless the macro data suddenly turns negative I don't see the risk of major drawdown in equities."
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