European shares steady after sell-off, StanChart drops

Wed Dec 4, 2013 4:48am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 off 0.1 percent

* StanChart weak, warns 2013 profits could fall on year

* U.S. data eyed for signals on Fed stimulus

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - European shares traded flat on Wednesday, steadying after the previous session's steep losses, with Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered the leading decliner after it warned its profits were likely to fall.

Shares have been weakening on expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will soon start to scale back its bond-buying programme. Investors realise the central bank will start reducing stimulus at some point, but the timing remains open to question.

Standard Chartered sank 6.7 percent in robust trade as it warned that profit would probably drop this year after Asian growth slowed over the past five months.

"To our minds, the top-line growth headwind is the key issue for Standard Chartered ... Potentially higher capital requirements for the group also mean that it will be difficult for the company to make headway on return on equity in the short-term, we think," Shore Capital said in a note.

Trading volume in the stock was robust, at 1 1/2 times the 90-day daily average by 0934 GMT, against the broader FTSEurofirst 300 at a fifth.

The FTSEurofirst 300 was off 0.1 percent at 1,279.82 points, having dropped 1.5 percent to 1,280.85 points on Tuesday. That was its lowest close since Oct. 23 and its most severe one-day percentage drop since Aug. 27.

The economic picture in Europe was mixed, with Germany reporting its private sector grew at its fastest rate in nearly 2-1/2 years in November, while a recovery in the broader euro zone private sector lost momentum. Italian and French service sectors fell back into contraction.

Before Friday's key report on U.S. jobs in November, the market will have a raft of U.S. data to deal with on Wednesday, including the November ADP employment report at 1315 GMT and both the ISM non-manufacturing index and new homes sales for September and October at 1500 GMT.

Those releases could give some indications as to when the Fed will start cutting its bond-buying programme, which has supported the rally in stocks. It has said it will start the process when certain economic data releases meet its targets.

Robust manufacturing data on Monday re-ignited speculation the Fed could start the process before the end of the year. That prompted a sharp sell-off in equities on Tuesday, and traders say markets may not yet be completely prepared for an imminent reduction of stimulus.

"My gut feeling is that we will probably get a reasonably positive set of jobs figures come Friday, and if anything that might just heighten fears that we could see a December taper," said Keith Bowman, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. "We should still get a little bit of downside."