European shares drift lower, Alstom outperforms

Wed Apr 30, 2014 6:39am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 off 0.1 pct

* Persistent Ukraine tension weighs on sentiment

* Alstom jumps; among most shorted stocks on Paris bourse

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - European shares lost ground on Wednesday after gaining in the previous session, as tension in Ukraine offset reports of more corporate deal-making.

Alstom jumped 9.2 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 on Wednesday, after being 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 could not close their positions while the stock was suspended.

The FTSEurofirst 300 was down 0.1 percent at 1,351.54 points by 1018 GMT. It had jumped 1.2 percent on Tuesday, notching up its highest finish since April 4, when it closed at its highest in six years.

Investors were reluctant to place big bets before the end of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting. The meeting is expected to provide into the scaling back of its stimulus.

They were also concerned by the situation in Urkaine, where masked gunmen in military fatigues have taken control of swathes of the country's industrial east largely 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.

Some investors remained upbeat, partly on the basis that corporate activity could pick up further. The Alstom news was 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, France's Sanofi is looking to sell a portfolio of mature drugs that could fetch $7 billion to $8 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. Its shares rose 1.3 percent.

"Despite the recent batch of mega-deals announced, this is probably just the beginning of a long wave of mergers and takeovers. There is a growing pressure on company managers to put cash to work and focus on external growth, while organic growth remains weak," said Jeanne Asseraf-Bitton, head of global cross-asset research at Lyxor AM, which has $114 billion in assets under management.

"In that context, we should see a rise in hostile bids, as well as the return of leveraged deals."

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 Larry King)

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