* Mining stocks fall on back of weaker metals prices
* Telecom Italia leading gainer as CEO stepping down
* Bayer up on possible Monsanto interest for Bayer unit
* JP Morgan cuts euro zone equities to “neutral” (ADVISORY- Reuters plans to replace intra-day European and UK stock market reports with a Live Markets blog on Eikon - see Open for site in development. See the bottom of the report for more details. Adds details, updates prices)
By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Danilo Masoni
LONDON/MILAN, March 21 (Reuters) - European shares steadied on Monday with weaker commodity stocks offsetting gains in Bayer and Telecom Italia.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 0.1 percent by 1104 GMT, while the euro zone’s blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index was up 0.1 percent.
Telecom Italia rose 3.6 percent, topping gainers on the FTSEurofirst, after the company confirmed its CEO was stepping down in a move seen as a sign of the growing influence of top shareholder Vivendi.
Italian broker ICBPI said the resignation could fuel speculation about new cost-cutting at the Italian phone group.
Bayer’s shares rose 3.5 percent after people familiar with the matter told Reuters that Monsanto, the world’s largest seed producer, had approached Bayer to express interest in its crop science unit, including a potential acquisition worth more than $30 billion.
Mining and steel stocks such as ArcelorMittal and Glencore fell as metals prices weakened and shares in Casino also declined after Standard & Poor’s cut its rating on the company.
A fall in oil prices also weighed on the shares of energy companies, while Tullow Oil was further impacted by a downgrade from investment bank Jefferies.
Some strategists remained cautious on the outlook for European stocks.
JP Morgan Cazenove downgraded euro zone equities to “neutral” from “overweight”, citing headwinds on the region’s stock markets from a weakening in the U.S dollar.
“We reiterate our recent downgrade of Japan, and also downgrade Eurozone, from overweight to neutral. The region is still a crowded ‘long’, valuations are uninspiring, Euro is a headwind and ECB (European Central Bank) action is behind us,” said JP Morgan strategist Mislav Matejka.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index remains down by around 7 percent since the start of 2016.
Today’s European research round-up
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Mike Dolan, Markets Editor EMEA.