* FTSEurofirst 300 edge lower
* Earnings concerns hit banks
* Sodexo, Nokia fall after earnings lag
* Vodafone boosted by Verizon stake talk
By David Brett
LONDON, April 18 European indexes pared gains to
close slightly lower on Thursday after more weak corporate and
economic data in the United States and Europe heightened fears
over the growth outlook.
The FTSEurofirst 300 closed down 0.03 percent at
1,147.38 points, having fallen from a session high of 1,154.62,
to post its fifth straight day of falls and take its
second-quarter decline to 3.5 percent.
Banks were the worst-hit sector, down 1.1 percent,
with French bank Societe Generale among the top
fallers, down 3.5 percent. Traders cited weak results from U.S.
peer Morgan Stanley as contributing to the decline.
That followed forecast-lagging earnings from European firms
including Sodexo and Nokia, down 9.6
percent and 8.3 percent, respectively.
Overall, STOXX Europe 600 companies are set to
undershoot first quarter earnings expectations by 3.9 percent,
according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.
"We're going into this earnings season with very low
expectations. That's not a problem in and of itself, it's how
much better or worse we do than that," Daniel Morris, market
strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, said.
Sentiment was further bruised after several U.S. economic
data releases came in weaker than expected - fresh concern for
those investors looking for U.S. growth to help support earnings
and offset weakness in Europe.
The earnings news was not all bad, however, with the world's
largest maker of crop chemicals, Syngenta AG, up 3
percent on solid first-quarter sales to help the chemicals
sector outperform, up 0.6 percent.
Adding most points to the index was GlaxoSmithKline,
which gained 3.2 percent in heavy volume after the potentially
earnings-enhancing news that a U.S. panel had recommended
approval of its new lung drug, Breo Ellipta.
That helped it add most points to the FTSEurofirst 300 in
volume nearly 2-1/2 times its 90-day daily average.
Fellow defensive heavyweight Vodafone also lent its
support, up 3 percent after comments from U.S. joint venture
partner Verizon buoyed those hoping Vodafone may exit its stake.
Despite a smattering of deals in recent months, mergers and
acquisitions activity in Europe remains subdued as the growth
outlook continues to dent confidence and prevent corporates
parting with their cash piles.
"If we have a small recovery in Europe, a stabilisation of
the banking system and better numbers in terms of economic
growth, the M&A picture might change," Sophie Elkrief, Deputy
Head of Alternative Investments at Dexia Asset Management, said.