Rio hit and earnings concerns weigh on Europe shares

Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:15am GMT

* FTSEurofirst 300 roughly flat at 1,160.22 points

* Euro STOXX 50 edges down by around 0.1 pct

* Rio Tinto falls over 3 pct after $14 bln charge

* Worries over corporate results seen pegging back equities

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

LONDON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - European shares were flat to a touch weaker on Thursday after mining company Rio Tinto's took a $14 billion hit on a pair of deals and chip maker ASML underlined concern over corporate earnings this quarter.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was roughly unchanged at 1,160.22 points, while the euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index slipped 0.1 percent to 2,699.06 points.

Rio Tinto took the most points off the FTSEurofirst 300 index, falling 3.4 percent after announcing the $14 billion charge and resignation of its chief executive.

"There's been a mixed bag on the earnings front so far," said Darren Easton, director of trading at Logic Investments.

"In the short-term, we're in the bear camp," he added.

Easton said Germany's DAX, which was down 0.2 percent at 7,675.95 points, could also fall in the near-term, as the index had gone below its 20-day moving average level of around 7,683 points - an indicator often used as a "sell signal" by some traders.

ASML FALLS

Dutch group ASML joined Rio at the top of the loser board for the FTSEurofirst 300 index, falling 3.1 percent after warning of a weak first quarter.

Liberum Capital kept a "sell" rating on ASML shares.

"We regard ASML as being expensive versus its longer term revenue and earnings growth outlook," Liberum wrote in a research note. "While the share has re-rated sharply on the back of optimistic longer term market expectations, we believe that actual revenue growth is likely to be somewhat lower."

The FTSEurofirst 300 has risen around 2 percent so far this year.

The index also reached a near two-year high earlier this month, having rallied throughout the second half of 2012 as fading fears of a break-up of the euro zone prompted investors to scoop up the region's equities.

Yet while most investors and analysts expect European equity markets to rise over the course of 2013, some have forecast European stock markets to trade sideways in the first quarter.

Some strategists predict that a bad round of company results could lead investors to sell shares to book some of the recent profit.

Unicredit equity strategist Christian Stocker said European company earnings due over the next two months could disappoint.

"The market will remain predominantly in a consolidation mood following a cautious outlook on earnings. I think European companies will disappoint a bit, particularly in cyclical sectors such as automotive and industrial goods and services," he said.

"We prefer defensive sectors such as food and beverages, personal household goods and healthcare and will remain on the defensive side, at least during the earnings season," he added.