European shares ease on weaker insurance sector, Italian stocks surge

MILAN (Reuters) - European shares ticked lower on Monday, weighed down by losses among insurance stocks, while exchange operators slipped on expectations that the merger between London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Boerse will fail.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The STOXX Europe 600 .STOXX closed 0.1 percent lower, adding to Friday's steep losses that sent the pan-European index to its lowest closing level for three weeks.

Generali GASI.MI, down 2.8 percent, was among the biggest drags on the STOXX after Intesa Sanpaolo ISP.MI said late on Friday it had decided not to pursue a possible tie-up with Italy's biggest insurer.

The decision, which helped Intesa gain 5.5 percent on relief that the Italian bank was not putting its dividend at risk to pursue the deal, prompted some analysts to downgrade Generali.

“As we do not expect another bidder our valuation now implies 10 percent downside,” said RBC Capital Markets, which downgraded Generali to “underperform” from “outperform”.

However, a rally for shares including Intesa Sanpaolo and Banco BPM BAMI.MI helped Italy's benchmark FTSE MIB .FTMIB index to surge 1.7 percent.

Banco BPM was up 6.1 percent, the top gainer in the STOXX 600, after the lender said late on Friday that it comfortably met the European Central Bank’s capital requirements.

However, insurance stocks lost ground.

Britain's biggest motor insurers Admiral ADML.L and Direct Line DLGD.L fell 2.5 percent and 7.2 percent respectively after the government announced new rules that push up lump sum payments for personal injury claims, a change the industry's trade body described as "crazy".

London Stock Exchange (LSE) LSE.L and Deutsche Boerse DB1Gn.DE fell 1.1 percent and 2.4 percent respectively after the LSE said that its proposed merger with the German exchange was unlikely to be approved by the European Commission.

“It becomes clear that the merger with Deutsche Boerse is on a knife-edge... There is a long, long way to fall if this tie-up dies,” ETX Capital market analyst Neil Wilson said.

Among other listed exchange operators, Euronext ENX.PA was down 2.2 percent.

Elsewhere, Dutch mail and parcel company PostNL PTNL.AS fell 7.4 percent after its underlying cash operating income for the fiscal year came in below market expectations.

Adidas ADSGn.DE rose 3.9 percent after UBS and RBC lifted their ratings in the first upgrade for the German sportswear group for seven months.

“We think upgrade cycle will continue this year and see opportunity for Adidas to surprise on sales growth, gross margin and operating leverage,” UBS analyst Fred Speirs said in a note.

Additional reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Louise Ireland