European equities dip as healthcare stocks weaken

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 02, 2014 20:00 hrs

* FTSEurofirst 300 edges lower

* Bid target AstraZeneca falls; CEO says "back to normal"

* Rival healthcare stocks also fall

* Traders await ECB decision on Thursday

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

LONDON, Sept 2 (Reuters) - European shares slipped on Tuesday as major healthcare stocks fell after drugmaker AstraZeneca tried to play down speculation about a new bid from Pfizer.

The region's stock markets were also waiting to see if the European Central Bank made any changes in policy this week. Few expect any major steps, but most expect policy to loosen eventually, as persistent disinflation and conflict in Ukraine curb the euro zone's growth.

However, some traders said they believed that markets had already made their move higher on anticipation of new ECB measures, and therefore had little room to gain any more ground.

"We wouldn't chase stocks at these levels," said HED Capital head Richard Edwards.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index, which has risen nearly 7 percent from its mid-August low, edged down by 0.1 percent to 1,374.88 points towards the close of the trading day.

A 1.8 percent fall at AstraZeneca took the most points off the index. It also contributed to a drop in the shares of rivals such as Roche and Novartis. The STOXX Europe 600 Healthcare weakening 0.7 percent.

AstraZeneca's shares fell after the company's chief executive told Reuters in an interview that everything was "back to normal", in spite of speculation that Pfizer would make a new bid for the British company.


European shares have rallied following dovish comments by ECB President Mario Draghi. His remarks led to bets the through purchases of government or corporate bonds, a measure known as quantitative easing.

Sources at the central bank told Reuters last week that new action at its meeting this Thursday was unlikely but not impossible, and that the barrier to QE was still "very high".

Terry Torrison, managing director at Monaco-based McLaren Securities, said many investors were holding off from taking new equity positions before the ECB's meeting.

Torrison said stock markets might fall if the ECB is perceived not to have done enough on Thursday to support the euro zone's flagging economy.

"It could be a case of 'buy the rumour, sell on the fact'. The market has had a good rally off the lows, but it has got room to come back a little bit. Most people are waiting to see what Draghi says before committing new money to the market," he said.

Europe bourses in 2014:

Asset performance in 2014:

Today's European research round-up (additional reporting by Blaise Robinson and Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier. Editing by Jane Merriman, Larry King)

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