* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct, Euro STOXX 50 up 0.6 pct
* FTSEurofirst +14 pct in 2012, ESTOXX +15 pct
* Bankia tumbles after negative valuation
PARIS, Dec 27 (Reuters) - European shares steadied early on
Thursday in their first trading session following the Christmas
break, with investors focusing on Washington's last-ditch
efforts to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
At 0910 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top
European shares was up 0.1 percent at 1,138.83 points in low
volumes, just a few points shy of an 19-month high of 1,144.15
hit last week.
"There is still hope for a last-minute deal, otherwise we're
in for a correction in January. People have already priced in an
agreement. Without it, the market can't stay at these levels," a
Paris-based trader said.
Major tax hikes and spending cuts known as the "fiscal
cliff" will come into force on Jan. 1 unless the White House and
Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-run House of
Representatives reach a budget deal to avoid an abrupt economic
The impasse on how to cut the U.S. deficit has begun to
affect consumer sentiment. Shoppers might have spent less this
holiday season for fear of looming tax increases and reports of
lacklustre retail holiday sales added to the urgency for a deal.
U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday, dragged lower by shares of
"We remain sceptical and maintain that the most likely
outcome is that we will 'go over the cliff' - that is, there
will be no substantive moderation of the fiscal cliff policies
before year-end," Nomura economists wrote in a note.
Resource-related stocks gained ground, boosted by renewed
optimism about China's economic growth.
Rio Tinto added 1.4 percent, BHP Billiton
gained 1.3 percent, and Total rose 1.7 percent.
Data showed on Thursday annual growth of China's industrial
profits accelerated to 22.8 percent in November from October's
20.5 percent, fuelling expectations of a steady recovery for the
world's second biggest economy.
Clariant AG surged 4.5 percent after the firm said
it was selling its textile chemicals, paper specialties and
emulsions businesses to U.S.-based investment firm SK Capital
for $550 million.
Shares in nationalised Spanish lender Bankia fell
12.5 percent on fears of further losses for shareholders after
the country's bank rescue fund said on Wednesday the bank has a
negative valuation of 4.2 billion euros, the last step before
the injection of 18 billion euros ($24 billion) of European
money into the bank.
Around Europe, UK's FTSE 100 index was up 0.2
percent, Germany's DAX index up 0.2 percent, and
France's CAC 40 up 0.7 percent, while the euro zone's
blue chip Euro STOXX 50 index added 0.5 percent.
So far this year, the FTSE 100 is up 7 percent, the DAX up
30 percent, the CAC up 16 percent.
The Euro STOXX 50 is up 15 percent so far this year and the
FTSEurofirst 300 up 14 percent, both on track to post their best
annual performance since the bounce of 2009.