European shares slip as euro zone recovery slows, ECB looms

Wed Jun 4, 2014 11:34am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.1 pct, Euro STOXX 50 down 0.2 pct

* Wait-and-see mode ahead of ECB meeting

* New ECB measures seen as priced in already

* Holcim, Lafarge rally on private-equity bid report (Updates prices, adds analyst comment)

By Lionel Laurent and Blaise Robinson

LONDON/PARIS, June 4 (Reuters) - European shares inched down on Wednesday after data confirmed a slowdown in the euro zone's economic recovery in the first quarter, with investors awaiting fresh action by the European Central Bank to spur growth.

The 18-nation bloc's economy expanded by just 0.2 percent in the three months to March, statistics office Eurostat said, cementing investor expectations for the ECB to trim its refinancing rate, send its deposit rate into negative territory and launch a cheap-lending initiative targeted at businesses.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.1 percent at 1,372.67 points as of 1007 GMT, hovering below a 6-1/2-year high hit on Monday.

"No-one's really eager to make any aggressive moves ahead of tomorrow," said CMC Markets analyst Jasper Lawler.

"It seems unlikely the ECB would disappoint in terms of action...(But) the real crunch is going to be what the ECB guides for the next meeting and beyond."

The market's pause for breath saw national benchmark indexes in France, Britain, Italy and Spain fall between 0.1 and 0.4 percent, while Germany's DAX index stayed flat.

Euro zone peripheral markets have been rallying on hopes of further measures from the ECB, with Milan's FTSE MIB index up 14 percent for the year-to-date and Madrid's IBEX up 9 percent.

Shares of Spanish oil-and-gas company Repsol fell 3.6 percent, one of the worst performers on the FTSEurofirst 300, after Mexico's Pemex sold the bulk of its stake in Repsol for 2.09 billion euros ($2.85 billion).

Construction companies Holcim and Lafarge rallied more than 2.7 percent after a report said that private-equity companies were considering bids for some assets as part of the companies' planned merger.

Hopes for ECB intervention have supported share prices in recent months, often leading to a bullish investor response to weak data, although some traders said there was a growing risk of a pullback after the central bank's meeting on Thursday.

"There's a real danger the ECB has created a rod for its own back (with expectations)," said Nick Beecroft, analyst at Saxo Bank.

"The risk is that if some of the expected measures are announced but not all of them, that the market strengthens the euro and tries to force the ECB into more action."

Shares in Tesco fell 1.5 percent after Britain's biggest retailer posted its worst quarterly UK sales drop in 40 years on Wednesday, ratcheting up the pressure on boss Phil Clarke to show his turnaround plan can counter the challenges of the grocery industry.

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

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

Today's European research round-up ($1 = 0.7342 Euros) (Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char)