March 31, 2015 / 11:20 AM / 4 years ago

Europe stock indexes on track for best first quarter in years

* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.4 pct, up 16 pct in Q1

By Blaise Robinson and Atul Prakash

PARIS/LONDON, March 31 (Reuters) - European shares fell on Tuesday, taking a breather from their sharp rally of the past three months sparked by the drop in the euro, with Germany’s DAX index set to record its biggest first-quarter gain since its creation in mid-1988.

As the quarter draws to an end, the DAX is up 22 percent, while the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares is up 16 percent, a sharp contrast with Wall Street where the S&P 500 is up 1.3 percent since the start of the year.

The euro has retreated on prospects of an asset-buying scheme from the European Central Bank, which was launched earlier this month, contrasting with the trajectory of monetary policy in the United States where the Federal Reserve is seen raising interest rates this year.

“Quantitative easing in Europe has been the surprising positive in the first quarter, thanks to its huge size and the timing,” said Lorne Baring, managing director, B Capital Wealth Management in Geneva.

“The question is whether being a late starter has left the ECB and Europe too far behind and too close to deflation. The next two quarters will be key to understanding if Europe can scrape past and start to accelerate.”

At 1055 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.4 percent, at 1,589.70 points.

UK’s FTSE 100 index was down 1.1 percent, dragged lower by energy shares such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell , down 1.5 percent and 1.3 percent respectively, as oil prices sank again.

Bank of Ireland fell 8 percent after Canada’s Fairfax Financial Holdings sold a 2.9 percent stake in the bank.

Germany’s DAX index was down 0.7 percent on Tuesday and France’s CAC 40 down 0.6 percent, as investors booked recent gains.

“Markets are ending the strongest quarter in years,” said Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets, in Brussels.

“As of tomorrow, we may be in a different world. Markets are very ‘overbought’ and will be looking for a reason to correct or consolidate,” he said.

Europe bourses in 2015:

Asset performance in 2015:

Today’s European research round-up

Editing by William Hardy

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