European shares slightly down ahead of election results

Fri May 23, 2014 4:20am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 index falls 0.1 percent

* Caution ahead of Ukraine, EU election results

* Smiths Group slips, warns on profit in detection unit

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) - European shares edged lower on Friday, moving further away from last week's six-year highs with investors trading cautiously ahead of European and Ukrainian election results.

At 0755 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.1 percent at 1,364.75 points after closing 0.1 percent higher in the previous session. The index climbed to 1,372.81 on May 15, its highest since 2008.

The EU's marathon parliamentary election was in focus. Polling kicked off on Thursday when Britain and the Netherlands voted, with right-wing, anti-EU parties expected to attract a surge of protest votes in many countries.

Britain's anti-EU UKIP party made strong gains in local elections, according to early results on Friday, while a Dutch exit poll for the EU elections indicated that the anti-Islam, Eurosceptic Freedom Party had fallen well short of its goal of topping the poll.

Analysts said there were concerns the EU elections could destabilise some euro zone governments at home. In Italy, for example, a poor result for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's party could weaken his drive for swift reforms that he promised when he took power.

"After a couple of strong sessions, markets are taking a wait-and-see approach ahead of the European elections," Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels, said.

"Normally the market impact should be limited but a situation like this adds a layer of uncertainty, especially when we know that there are also elections in Ukraine."

Tensions are high in Ukraine, where more than a dozen servicemen were reported killed on Thursday in a clash with pro-Russian separatists, ahead of Sunday's presidential election, seen as crucial for its fragile democracy.

Among sharp decliners, British engineer Smiths Group fell 3 percent, the top fallers on the FTSEurofirst 300 index after warning about the profitability of its detection unit.

Analysts remained positive on the market's outlook and predicted that key European indexes would set new highs following expected new European Central Bank measures to support the economy.

"Markets remain well oriented. As (the) June 5 (ECB meeting) draws nearer, the market will start to anticipate about the European Central Bank's likely move to loosen its monetary policy. And that should be positive for risky assets," Gijsels of BNP Paribas Fortis said.

Analysts in a Reuters poll published on Wednesday expected the ECB to cut its main interest rate in June and push the deposit rate below zero in an attempt to stop the euro from rising and inflation from falling further.

Markets showed no immediate reaction to a drop in Germany's Ifo business sentiment index, which fell more than expected to its lowest this year in May.

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

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

Today's European research round-up (Editing by John Stonestreet)

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