August 24, 2010 / 4:45 PM / 7 years ago

Economy woes drag Europe shares to month-low close

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 1.6 pct at one-month closing low

* U.S. existing home sales drop to 15-yr low in July

* CRH falls; warns on profit due to faltering U.S. economy

* Oil majors among biggest fallers as crude slips to $72

For a Breakingviews column on equities markets, click [ID:nLDE67N0KP]

By Harpreet Bhal

LONDON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - European shares fell to a one-month closing low on Tuesday as disappointing U.S. housing data underscored concern over the pace of recovery in the world’s largest economy.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top shares closed down 1.6 percent at 1,019.52 points, its lowest close since late July, after ending higher a day earlier on a pick-up in merger and acquisition activity.

Data showed sales of existing U.S. homes fell more steeply than expected in July to a 15-year low, suggesting the economic recovery could be losing momentum. [ID:nN24249810]

The downbeat data also drove investors into safe-haven bonds, with German Bund futures hitting a new record high. [ID:nLDE67N1JY]

Volumes on the FTSEurofirst 300 were thin at 70 percent of the index’s 90-day daily average due to the holiday season.

“Markets are reacting far stronger than you would expect due to low volumes, and because people have lost confidence,” said Lothar Mentel, chief investment officer at Octopus Investments.

“There is a lack of belief that the strength that we have seen over the first two quarters will continue into the next two,” he said.

Economy worries weighed on construction and materials stocks .SXOP, with Ireland’s CRH (CRH.I) plunging 16.6 percent after warning earnings would fall this year due to a faltering U.S. economy. [ID:nLDE67M1L7]

Within the sector, HeidelbergCement (HEIG.DE), Holcim HOLN.VX and Wolseley WOS.L dropped 1.3 to 5.1 percent. Lafarge LAFP.PA shed 4.4 percent after broker BofA Merril Lynch downgraded its recommendation on the stock to “underperform” from “neutral”.

Concerns over the economic recovery also pressured oil majors, with a fall in crude prices CLc1 to $72 a barrel -- its lowest since early July -- also weighing on the sector.

    The STOXX Europe oil and gas index .SXEP fell 2.3 percent, with BP (BP.L), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and Total (TOTF.PA) declining 1 to 3.4 percent.


    Vedanta Resources (VED.L) was among the biggest fallers in the mining sector, down 7.6 percent after India’s environment ministry rejected a plan by the group to mine bauxite in an eastern Indian state. [ID:nSGE67N06M]

    Within the sector, Kazakhmys (KAZ.L), Xstrata XTA.L, Rio Tinto (RIO.L) and BHP Billiton (BLT.L) lost 1.5 to 4.3 percent, with worries over the demand for metals pressuring the sector following the disappointing U.S. home sales data.

    “Concern over global economic recovery continues to dominate traders’ sentiment, and as risk appetite ebbs away, equity prices seem to be in danger of going into free fall,” said Ben Critchley, sales trader at IG Index.

    Bucking the weak trend, Associated British Foods (ABF.L) rose 3.4 percent on a positive broker note from Jefferies International, which said the firm offered excellent deep value.

    Lindt & Spruengli (LISN.S) rose 2.8 percent after the Swiss chocolate-maker posted better-than-expected first-half results, and said it expected to return to its long-term growth targets next year. [ID:nLDE67M1I7]

    Across Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE, Germany's DAX .GDAXI and France's CAC 40 .FCHI were down 1.3 to 1.8 percent. (Editing by Will Waterman)

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