European shares fall for third day on US jobs data

Wed Dec 4, 2013 12:39pm EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.6 pct, Euro STOXX 50 down 0.7 pct

* U.S. job numbers heighten tapering expectations

* Standard Chartered falls as it warns on profits

By David Brett

LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - European shares fell for a third consecutive session on Wednesday in response to evidence of growing momentum in the U.S. economic recovery that could mean a scaling-back of stimulus by the Federal Reserve.

Standard Chartered was a stand-out faller, dropping 6.5 percent in heavy volume as it warned that profit would probably drop this year after Asian growth slowed over the past five months.

"Today's below-expectation results will likely lead to downgrades of over 5 percent to earnings forecasts for 2013 and potentially 2014," said Jonathan Jackson, head of equities at Killik & Co. "We prefer HSBC for its more diversified earnings stream and higher dividend yield."

The results, however, contributed to a 1.3 percent fall in larger rival HSBC.

Banks were the worst performing sector as the FTSEurofirst 300 shed 7.26 points, or 0.6 percent to 1,273.59, closing below support around the 1,278 level.

The euro zone blue chip index fell below 3,000 for the first time since October, but it found technical support to bounce off a session low and close at 2,991.76.

Craig Erlam, analyst at Alpari, is bearish on the technical outlook for European indexes, although he noted some big support levels on the Euro STOXX 50 - at 2,977, and 2,955.

TAPER TALK

The sell-off followed stronger-than-expected employment figures in the United States - a precursor for non-farm payrolls data on Friday - suggesting the labour market is robust enough for the Federal Reserve to start trimming its bond purchases.

"Everyone was long going into December, which is generally a strong month, so there was some reticence to book gains," said Chris Parkinson, head of equity strategy at Christopher Street Capital. "Despite some members of the Fed hinting that maybe there would be a taper I don't think anyone took it seriously - maybe today's data has changed that."

Volatility - a crude gauge of investor fear - was spiking towards levels not seen since October and government bonds were selling off.

"If you look at the general risk indexes they look to be moving wider, which generally is an indication that tapering is back on the table," Parkinson said. He expected the short-term nervousness to blow-over, however, and still anticipated a stimulus wind-down to begin in the new year.

But European shares began to pare losses in tandem with a turnaround on U.S. indexes after figures showed the pace of growth in the U.S. services sector slowed in November, offering a contrasting picture to the earlier jobs data.

Robust manufacturing data on Monday had reignited speculation the Fed could start scaling back its $85 billion of monthly bond-buying before year-end. That prompted a sharp sell-off in equities on Tuesday, but traders said markets might not yet be 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."

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