Iraq crisis, UK rate warnings hit European shares

Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:01pm EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 ends 0.2 pct lower, hits one-week low

* Iraq crisis, chance of early UK rate hike hit sentiment

* Travel, leisure and property stocks among top decliners

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, June 13 (Reuters) - Major European stock indexes ended lower on Friday, with British equities slipping on the possibility of an early rate hike and travel stocks hurt by concern the Iraq conflict will raise oil prices.

The STOXX Europe 600 Travel and Leisure index fell 1.7 percent, the top decliner in Europe, on concern higher energy prices will hurt profit margins of airlines and other transport companies.

In Britain, the blue-chip FTSE 100 index fell 1.0 percent, led by property firms, after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said interest rates might rise sooner than markets expected and it would consider controls on mortgage lending.

A Reuters poll of economists on Friday suggested the first rate rise will come in the first three months of next year. In a May 28 poll, economists' expectations had been for rates to go up in the second quarter.

In reaction, Land Securities and British Land , the country's top two listed property companies, fell more than 4 percent. Kingfisher, Europe's biggest home improvements retailer, fell nearly 4 percent.

"Renewed geopolitical tensions and concerns that interest rate hikes is the UK might come quicker than expected are putting some pressure on the market," Robert Parkes, equity strategist at HSBC, said.

"However, we believe that the bull case for the market is intact and I don't see today's weakness as the start of a deeper correction. Improving global economic conditions will continue to support the market going forward."

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended 0.2 percent lower at 1,389.83 points, moving further away from this week's 6 1/2-year high, after falling up to 1,381.35, the lowest since early June.

Across Europe, Germany's DAX fell 0.3 percent, France's CAC was down 0.2 percent and the euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 dropped 0.04 percent.

Travel stocks were among the major decliners in Europe, with British Airways owner International Airlines Group, Germany's Lufthansa and budget airline firm easyJet , falling 2.9 to 3.5 percent on Iraq tensions.

"The market was looking for an excuse to take profits after a rally to new highs, and tensions in Iraq gave investors an opportunity to trim their positions," Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels.

"America may send a few fighter planes to help Iraq, but it doesn't look like the start of a new Iraq war. I don't see a sharp pull-back in the market. Shares could fall another 3 to 5 percent in the near term before bouncing back."

President Barack Obama said on Friday he will take several days to review options for how the United States can help Iraq deal with the militant insurgency, saying any action would need significant involvement by Iraq itself.

However, losses in the broader market were capped by a rise in energy stocks following a rally in oil prices. The European oil and gas index rose 1.1 percent, helped by a 2 percent rise in Statoil and a 0.9 percent rise in Total .

The sector index was also supported by a 10.7 percent jump in CGG, a company whose services include providing geological data analysis to energy companies, as traders cited rumours it could attract bid interest.

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 Francesco Canepa; Editing by Larry King)