European shares retreat as Pearson plummets

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares edged lower on Wednesday as a slump in education publisher Pearson's PSON.L shares weighed on media stocks .SXMP, though ASML ASML.AS and Novozymes NZYMb.CO gained after robust updates.

People walk through the lobby of the London Stock Exchange in London, Britain August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File photo

The pan-European STOXX 600 index .STOXX was down 0.2 percent in choppy trade, while Britain's blue-chip FTSE 100 .FTSE index was flat, having fallen 1.5 percent in the previous session when a rise in sterling put pressure on its dollar-earning firms.

Shares in education publisher Pearson PSON.L tumbled more than 27 percent, on track for their biggest one-day loss ever, after the firm cut its profit outlook for the next two years and said that it would have to reset its 2017 dividend.

“Our argument has been, and remains, investors have no visibility on what this company looks like in five years,” Gary Paulin, head of global equities at Northern Trust Capital Markets, said in a note.

The STOXX 600 media index .SXMP dropped 1.8 percent, on course for its worst day in three months.

Pearson is “just in a difficult kind of business. Publishing in general is suffering at the hands of the Internet and I think they’re struggling to come up with a solution,” said Jasper Lawler, senior market analyst at London Capital Group.

British satellite telecoms company Inmarsat ISA.L was also under pressure, down 4.6 percent and among the biggest STOXX fallers after JPMorgan cut its rating on the stock to "neutral" from "overweight".

“The near-term story seems clouded by ongoing legacy pressures, a slower than hoped ramp up in Aviation revenues and rising GX/aviation investment needs,” analysts at JPMorgan said in a note.

Elsewhere, however, well-received company updates helped shares in chip-making equipment manufacturer ASML ASML.AS gain 5 percent, hitting an all-time high after its earnings beat forecasts. Biotech firm Novozymes NZYMb.CO also rose 2.8 percent after its Q4 report.

Fish farmer Marine Harvest MHG.OL was up 4 percent after its fourth quarter earnings beat forecasts.

Germany's Gerresheimer GXIG.DE was the top STOXX riser, up 6.3 percent after Deutsche Bank upgraded the drugs packaging firm to "buy".

Reporting by Kit Rees; Editing by Mark Trevelyan