European shares drift lower, Alstom outperforms

Wed Apr 30, 2014 4:22am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 off 0.1 pct

* Persistent Ukraine tensions dampen investor sentiment

* Alstom jumps; among most shorted stocks on Paris bourse

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - European shares lost ground on Wednesday after sharp gains in the previous session as tensions in Ukraine continued to depress sentiment, though French conglomerate Alstom bucked the weak market trend.

Alstom jumped 7.3 percent after saying it would review a binding offer from General Electric for its energy business by the end of May and left the door open for a competing bid from Germany's Siemens.

Shares in Alstom resumed trading Wednesday having been suspended since late last week.

According to data from Markit, 7.1 percent of Alstom shares are out on loan, making it one of the most shorted stocks on the Paris bourse. Short sellers have been unable to close their positions while the stock was suspended.

The FTSEurofirst 300 was down 0.1 percent at 1,351.65 points by 0746 GMT, having jumped 1.2 percent on Tuesday, notching up its highest close since April 4.

Investors were reluctant to place big bets ahead of the conclusion of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting, which should give insight into the pace of its scaling back of stimulus, against a backdrop of persistent concerns surrounding Ukraine.

Pro-Russian separatists seized control of state buildings in the town of Horlivka on Wednesday, tightening their grip on swathes of Ukraine's industrial east almost unopposed by police.

"The Fed meeting should be fairly predictable, and although sanctions against Russia earlier this week were less harsh than expected, (the situation in Ukraine) will continue to be in the back of the minds of investors looking to take long positions," Sanlam Securities head of trading Mark Ward said.

While the market dipped on Wednesday, some investors remained upbeat partly on the basis that corporate activity could pick up further, with the Alstom news only among the latest in a burst of deal-making and bids seen largely in the healthcare sector.

In another example of drugmakers trying to shed non-core assets, Sanofi is looking to sell a portfolio of mature drugs that could fetch between $7 billion and $8 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. Its shares rose 1.1 percent.

"We continue to see scope for more M&A activity not only in pharma but in other sectors also," Atif Latif, director of trading at Guardian Stockbrokers, said.

"Europe remains range bound and although we are at the upper end we continue to see the equity market in good shape for a move higher," he said.

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

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

Today's European research round-up (Additional reporting by Blaise Robinson; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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