European shares fall as strong euro, China weakness hits earnings

Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:20am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 falls 0.3 pct, Euro STOXX 50 down 0.4 pct

* Euro strength knocks Akzo, SAP

* Remy Cointreau, Diageo report weak China demand

* Major European markets shut on Friday and Monday (Adds quotes, detail, updates prices)

By Alistair Smout

LONDON, April 17 (Reuters) - European shares edged lower on Thursday, weighed down by companies reporting earnings that were knocked by currency effects and weak demand from China, confirming a poor start to the earnings season in Europe.

Trade was subdued, with investors unwilling to place strong bets on moves in either direction before a four-day weekend for European markets.

Top faller on the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was Dutch paints and chemicals firm AkzoNobel, down 6.4 percent after lower-than-expected earnings that it blamed on blamed adverse currency movements.

Also affected by the strong euro was German business software maker SAP, down 3.4 percent after it warned that it expected the damage from volatile exchange rates to worsen in the second quarter.

Many of the factors driving the euro to levels that have set off alarm bells at the European Central Bank are unlikely to go away on their own, part of the reason the bank has been signalling action.

Although it has only just started, European earnings season has been weak so far. Sixty percent of companies that have reported results have missed expectations, Thomson Reuters StarMine data showed.

"I don't think first quarter earnings will be great, as you've still got a relatively high euro, which will cause a drag on year-on-year figures," Nick Nelson, European equity strategist at UBS, said, noting that weak emerging market currencies only strengthened the euro further.

"The problem with emerging markets is you have a double whammy of the currency and demand as going against you."

Illustrative of demand problems emanating from emerging markets, Remy Cointreau dropped 3 percent after it warned full-year operating profit would plunge as much as 40 percent. Cognac sales sank 32 percent in the fourth quarter as the Chinese government cracked down on ostentatious spending.

Weakness in Asia also affected Diageo. It fell 4.2 percent, dropping to the bottom of the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 after reporting a 1.3-percent decline in third-quarter organic net sales on Thursday.

The maker of Johnnie Walker whisky and Smirnoff vodka has a stake in China's Shuijingfang. The Chinese company makes baiju, a white spirit whose sales are being hammered by a government crackdown on gift-giving.

In all, food and beverage stocks fell 1.4 percent, the top sectoral faller in Europe, with emerging market stocks such as Unilever down 1.5 percent.

"Remy and Diageo has been hit by their performance especially in China, and that's having a knock-on effect onto other companies that have also in the past posted weak emerging market figures such as Unilever," said Manoj Ladwa, head of trading at TJM Partners.

"The Chinese growth story does seem to be fizzling out, despite the odd market-beating number."

The FTSEurofirst 300 fell 0.3 percent to 1,318.29, retracing some of the previous session's 1.2-percent gain and remaining hemmed in recent ranges. The euro zone Euro STOXX 50 fell 0.4 percent.

The FTSEurofirst 300 had surged on Wednesday after Chinese growth came in ahead of expectations. Even though beverage stocks suffered from lower Chinese demand, some firms benefitted from growth in the world's No. 2 economy.

Advertising agency Publicis rose 2.1 percent after posting revenue growth on a comparable basis in the first quarter, helped by strong digital sales and an uptick in China and Europe.

Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v

Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v

Today's European research round-up (Editing by Louise Ireland)