* STOXX 600 down 0.3 pct but set for 5 pct quarterly gain
* Old Mutual leads South-Africa exposed stocks lower
* Miners biggest drag to STOXX as copper prices fall
* Upgrades support RWE, Direct Line
(Adds details, updates prices)
By Danilo Masoni
MILAN, March 31 European shares fell slightly on
Friday, weighed down by losses among miners and a slump in
insurer Old Mutual and other South African-exposed stocks, but
were firmly on track to end the quarter with a gain.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 0.3
percent, on track to end the first quarter of this year with a
gain of nearly 5 percent, its third straight quarterly gain.
The UK's FTSE 100 fell 0.5 percent, while Germany's
DAX was flat and France's CAC down 0.3 percent.
The rally in European shares has been driven by improving
economic data, strong earnings and a series of M&A deals in the
region, which have more than offset worries over the political
future of the region ahead of elections in France and Germany
and Britain's divorce from the European Union.
According to the latest weekly data from Bank of America
Merrill Lynch, European equities have attracted inflows for $1.5
billion, their largest showing in 60 weeks, as investor concerns
over a victory of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the
upcoming French presidential election subsided.
On Friday, Europe's Basic Resources index, where big
miners are listed, fell 1.7 percent, leading sectoral fallers on
the continent after copper prices slipped as immediate supply
threats eased. Anglo American was the
biggest loser on the index, down 3.6 percent.
Old Mutual was the biggest loser on the STOXX, down
7.4 percent, as South Africa's rand and government bonds fell
after President Jacob Zuma fired his respected finance minister
in a late-night cabinet reshuffle.
Other stocks exposed to the African country were also among
the top losers in Europe this morning. Asset manager Investec
fell 7 percent, healthcare firm Mediclinic
dipped 2.8 percent and paper company Mondi declined 2.4
percent, while German-listed South African
retailer Steinhoff fell 4 percent.
"Stocks with exposure to South Africa plunged amid deep
fears about the state of the country's government following the
sacking of respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan," said ETX
Capital analyst Neil Wilson in a note.
Another top loser on the STOXX was Danish biotechnology firm
Genmab. Its shares fell after partner Janssen
decided not to start the second stage of a study of a key drug.
Among gainers was German utility RWE which rose
2.7 percent after Oddo Seydler upgraded the stock to "buy" from
"neutral". UK motor insurer Direct Line rose 3.4
percent, also helped by a broker upgrade.
UK mid cap Shawbrook Group rallied 9.5 percent
after the UK lending banks said it had received a buyout offer.
(Reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Vin Shahrestani)