* FTSEurofirst down 0.1 percent
* Fiat, Sonova fall as peers’ earnings dip
* Bankia up on expectations of cash injection
* Fresnillo, Rangold up as precious metals M&A hots up
By David Brett
LONDON, Aug 16 (Reuters) - European shares stalled on Thursday following a rally that has taken equity markets close to 2012 highs on expectations central banks will take action to boost flagging growth.
By 1041 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 was down 1.5 points, or 0.1 percent, at 1,099.28, with trading volumes at barely 20 percent of their 90-day average.
This week has seen some of the lowest daily volumes on European bourses in the past six years. Wednesday was the seventh slowest day for turnover on EuroSTOXX 50 and the fourth on FTSEurofirst since 2006 - outside of the traditionally quiet year-end periods - according to Reuters data.
European stocks have rallied since late July on expectations of further monetary stimulus from central banks after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi pledged to do “whatever it takes” to protect the euro from the bloc’s sovereign debt crisis.
“Time will tell whether ”Super Mario“ will be able to deliver on his near promise of printing money, but as with everything in Europe nowadays, nothing is so straight forward,” David Man, partner at RMG Wealth Management, said.
Shares of Bankia, Spain’s largest nationalised lender jumped nearly 12 percent in heavy trade, leading the banking sector higher and building on its 75 percent gain this month, on speculation it is about to receive an emergency cash injection from Europe.
The UK’s FTSE 100 index and France’s CAC 40 index are close to triggering a bullish technical signal known as a ‘golden cross’, as their 50-day moving averages are a few points from crossing above their 200-day moving averages.
The expected cross, used by a number of algorithmic trading programmes as an automatic ‘buy’ trigger, would follow a similar bullish signal on Germany’s DAX which was triggered 10 days ago and would confirm a shift in mid-term momentum, usually signaling gains six months down the road.
Equity gains and a weak earnings season has left the pan-European STOXX 600 index trading at 10.14 times its expected earnings for the next 12 months, a level last seen last year and within one standard deviation of its 10-year average, Datastream data showed.
Earnings news hit certain stocks with Switzerland’s Sonova the top faller, down 3.1 percent on a readacross from Danish hearing aid maker William Demant Holding, which missed forecasts for first-half profit growth.
Truck and tractor maker Fiat Industrial shed 2.5 percent with traders citing a readacross in reaction to disappointing results from competitor Deere & Co.
Miners were the standout performers on an otherwise dull European shares index, bouncing after falls on Wednesday with Fresnillo and Randgold up as African Barrick Gold sparked M&A interest in the sector.
Randgold and Fresnillo, up 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent respectively, were helped higher after Canada’s Barrick Gold said it was in preliminary discussions with China National Gold Group Corporation over its 74 percent stake in unit African Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer.
The miners were also helped by talk of some form of monetary policy easing in China after Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said the country continued to face “headwinds” despite cooling inflation, with market participants saying an imminent cut in bank reserve ratios was likely.
Graphic of asset returns in 2012:
Euro zone debt crisis in graphics: