European shares head for best week in 8 months

Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:52am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct
    * On track for biggest weekly gain since April
    * Carnival gains as results prompt broker upgrades

    By Toni Vorobyova
    LONDON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - European equities steadied on
Friday, consolidating at the end of their best week in eight
months with further gains capped by year-end profit taking and
concerns about Chinese money market tensions.
    China's benchmark money market rates hit six-month highs
overnight, reviving memories of a massive cash crunch that
occurred in June. 
    Broad sentiment, though, remained fairly upbeat after
Wednesday's Federal Reserve meeting. The U.S. central bank 
trimmed monthly bond purchases by $10 billion, sugar-coating the
reduced stimulus with a signal that interest rates were likely
to stay low for longer than previously expected. 
    Although the taper came earlier than many had forecast,
markets had plenty of time to prepare for the move which was
first flagged in May, and the Fed's decision removed the policy
uncertainty that had kept many investors on the sidelines.
    "It is still highly accommodative policy from the Fed," said
Ioan Smith, strategist at KCG. "People have adopted the attitude
that OK, they are tapering but it's probably more of a syumbolic
gesture than anything else."
    However, with European equity investors already sitting on
gains of nearly 30 percent from the past two years, traders said
many had already closed their books for 2013, with few willing
to gamble with their profits in the final days of the year.
    "It will be low volume, low volatility and going slightly
higher," said Peter Garnry, strategist at Saxo Bank. 
    The FTSEurofirst 300 rose 0.1 percent to 1,283.60 points
 by 0843 GMT. That takes its gains so far this week to
3.3 percent - on track for its biggest weekly rise since April.
    Carnival was one of the top risers, up 2.8 percent,
after several brokers upgraded the cruise ship operator
following solid quarterly results the previous session.
    The EuroSTOXX 50 was flat at 3,032.14 points.
    Traders said in the very near term there could be some
volatility as a result of the final options expiry of the year.
For the EuroSTOXX 50, the 3,000 point mark could be key, with
heavy open interest in both puts and calls at that level.
    Overall, some 4.9 million call options - which bet on market
gains - on the euro zone blue-chip index are due to expire the
Eurex exchange, alongside 6.7 million puts, which are used to
position for or insure against market weakness.
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