UPDATE 1-Weaker Swiss stocks push down European shares

Tue Dec 10, 2013 12:40pm EST

* Swiss stocks take most points off FTSEurofirst 300

* FTSEurofirst 300 falls 0.7 pct to 1,262.98 points

* Euro STOXX 50 closes down 0.9 pct at 2,960.86 points

* Some traders see little room for moves higher this year

* Fed tapering uncertainty also weighing on equity markets

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

LONDON, Dec 10 (Reuters) - European shares slipped on Tuesday, weighed down by major Swiss stocks as a rally in the Swiss franc raised fresh concern about the country's exports.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 0.7 percent to 1,262.98 points. Swiss stocks such as chemicals groups Roche, drugs group Novartis and food company Nestle took the most points off the index.

Switzerland's SMI benchmark equity index closed down 1.1 percent as the Swiss franc rose to a two-year high against the dollar on Tuesday.

"The Swiss franc has strengthened. This could weigh on the country's exports, and this is why the SMI is down," said SteppenWolf Capital chief investment officer Phoebus Theologites.

A further factor dragging down European equities was renewed speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve will start scaling back its economic stimulus measures as early as this month, traders said.

The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index declined by 0.9 percent to 2,960.86 points. Germany's DAX , which has hit record highs this year, fell 0.9 percent to 9,114.44 points.

Late on Monday, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, a voting member on the U.S. central bank's policy-making committee, said the Fed could reduce its monthly bond purchases slightly this month, sooner than most economists expect.

Although many traders still felt the Fed was more likely to start tapering its bond-buying in March, the uncertainty was enough to hold back equity markets and cause a 3.2 percent rise on the Euro STOXX 50 Volatility Index.

CASHING IN PROFITS

"Everyone's talking about tapering, and that's causing people to take a bit off the table," said Darren Courtney-Cook, head of trading at Central Markets Investment Management.

In spite of Tuesday's pullback, the FTSEurofirst 300 index remains up by around 11 percent since the start of 2013 and the Euro STOXX 50 up by 12 percent. The DAX is still up nearly 20 percent and the Swiss SMI up by around 17 percent.

Yet Hendrik Klein, who heads Swiss high-frequency trading and asset-management firm Da Vinci Invest AG, felt the rally was over for 2013.

The uncertainty over the Fed will prevent European equity markets from hitting new highs before the end of the year, said Klein, who expected the DAX to finish 2013 around 9,100 points.

"I see the potential for another big up-move before the end of the year as very limited, as people will be looking to consolidate the gains made so far this year," he said.

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