3 Min Read
* STOXX 600 -0.1 pct, Euro zone stocks -0.2 pct
* BPER leads Italian banks lower
* Earnings also weigh on construction stocks
* Ontex, Rubis jump after results (Recasts, adds quotes and detail, updates prices)
By Kit Rees
LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) - European shares fell on Wednesday, slipping from 21-month highs, with Italian banks and construction stocks particularly weak.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 0.1 percent, slipping from a high reached in the previous session and the euro zone benchmark fell 0.2 percent as German and French bluechip indexes eased from record highs.
Construction and materials stocks were the biggest fallers, led by HeidelbergCement which reported its first-quarter operating profit slipped 3 percent.
A fall in Italian banking stocks put pressure on the European banking sector, which reversed earlier gains, with BPER Banca down 4.5 percent after its first-quarter net profit halved as a result of a writedown of its stake in Italian bank rescue fund Atlante.
"The main share price driver for BPER remains excess capital ... and its use. Little has changed on this front with this set of results as there was no news on strategy," analysts at UBS said in a note.
Ubi Banca and Mediobanca fell between 1.9 percent and 1.2 percent respectively, while Italy's banking index was down 0.6 percent.
Ken Odeluga, market analyst at City Index, said that following the outcome of the French presidential election, which was won by centrist Emmanuel Macron, the European Central Bank could feel less constrained to begin tapering its asset-buying programme.
"If you bring that into the picture for the Italian banks, it brings back onto the cards the whole problem about their capitalisation," Odeluga said.
ING, however, bucked the trend with the Dutch bank gaining 2.6 percent after its first-quarter underlying pretax profit came in ahead of expectations.
Shares in Deutsche Bank spiked briefly with a trader citing a Bloomberg report saying Qatar had asked German regulators to allow it to lift its stake in the bank above 10 percent.
Insurance also rose, with AXA up 0.5 percent after the French insurer said that it planned to float its U.S. businesses in 2018 to free up capital.
With the European earnings season more than half way through, financials are among the strongest performers so far, with almost 70 percent of those financial firms which have reported beating expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.
Overall, more than 71 percent of European firms have beaten earnings expectations.
Shares in Belgian hygiene products maker Ontex were the top STOXX risers, up 5 percent after the firm reported higher revenue in all of its five divisions.
Well-received earnings boosted shares in French energy firm Rubis, which jumped 5.8 percent to hit their highest ever levels. (Editing by Vikram Subhedar and Alexander Smith)