* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.6 pct, Euro STOXX 50 down 0.5 pct
* FTSE 100 underperforms, hit by ex-div stocks
* Thin volumes ahead of FOMC minutes due at 1800 GMT
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, Aug 21 (Reuters) - European stocks fell on Wednesday, after a sell-off the previous day, as investors avoided making fresh bets before eagerly awaited Federal Reserve minutes.
The U.S. central bank is set to release at 1800 GMT the minutes of its July policy meeting, which may shed light on when it will start scaling back its massive quantitative easing programme that has fuelled a rally in world equities over the past year.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares fell 0.6 percent to 1,207.71 points, after dropping 0.8 percent on Tuesday, dragged lower by mounting expectations the Fed will start cutting the amount of bonds it buys each month as soon as September.
Trading volumes were muted, representing only about three-quarters of the daily average volumes seen in the past 90 days.
“After showing strong resilience despite the pull-back on Wall Street, European stocks are finally losing steam,” FXCM analyst Vincent Ganne said.
“But so far, that’s just a bit of healthy profit-taking after such a big rally, and the FOMC minutes might as well turn out to be a non-event. Meanwhile, we still see ‘buy’ signals on European banks.”
Among regional indexes, London’s FTSE 100 underperformed, losing 1 percent, taking a technical hit as a clutch of companies including global bank HSBC traded without entitlement to their latest dividend payout.
France’s CAC 40 dipped 0.3 percent, while Germany’s DAX slid 0.2 percent.
Investors were turning to defensive stocks in sectors such as telecoms and utilities, while the bout of profit-taking in cyclical shares that started last week continued.
Deutsche Telekom gained 0.5 percent, EDF added 0.2 percent, while miners Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton lost 2.1 and 2.6 percent respectively.
French water and waste group Veolia was the top performing stock across Europe, jumping 8.3 percent, with traders citing an upbeat note from Morgan Stanley in which it said the company was the most attractive turnaround story in the sector.
Heineken was among the biggest fallers, skidding 4 percent after the Dutch brewer gave a muted outlook for the months ahead.
The euro zone’s blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index, which had surged nearly 15 percent from late June to late last week, fell 0.5 percent on Wednesday, to 2,774.58 points.
“I do see (stimulus withdrawal) as a very gradual process which equities can digest, but we are cautiously positioned and expect volatility,” Richard Champion, chief investment officer at Sanlam Private Investments (UK) Ltd, said.