European shares slip, Saipem warning hits oil services

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 30, 2013 12:30 hrs

* FTSEurofirst down 0.3 percent, off two-year highs

* Earnings worries hit Saipem, Imperial Tobacco, Antofagasta

* Weak Spanish, Swiss data weigh on index

* Swedbank rises on higher dividend payout ratio

By David Brett

LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - European shares fell from two-year highs on Wednesday, dragged lower by concerns over earnings in the tobacco and oil services sectors, including a profit warning from Italy's Saipem.

By 1149 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 fell 3.23 points, or 0.3 percent to 1,174.56, with poor economic data from Spain and Switzerland also weighing.

"There is an optimism in the market which has not been reflected in either corporate earnings or macroeconomic growth numbers," Wouter Sturkenboom, strategist at Russell Investments, said.

That potentially misplaced optimism was reflected in 14-day relative strength indicators (RSI), which for most major European markets are now in "overbought" territory.

Shares in Saipem were the major casualty, tumbling 36 percent after the oil services firm forecast a sharp fall in earnings following Tuesday's market close.

Goldman Sachs placed its forecasts and rating for Saipem under review and warned of a potential read-across for the rest of the sector.

Peers including London-listed Petrofac, France's Technip and Norway's Subsea 7 fell as much as 6.5 percent while ENI, which controls Saipem, fell 4.5 percent.


Imperial Tobacco fell 4.8 percent after it said it expected first-half adjusted operating profit to be down year on year.

Miner Antofagasta, shed 7.8 percent, hit by a weaker than expected outlook, prompting BofA Merrill Lynch to cut its rating to "neutral".

The wave of downbeat updates from companies was followed by weak economic data, which helped push most sectors on the Stoxx 600 into negative territory.

Spain's economy sank deeper into recession in the fourth quarter of 2012, while Switzerland's leading indicator showed economic momentum slowed more than expected in January.

The data prompted profit taking in the European banking sector, which had made a strong start to 2013 having risen 9.5 percent so far this year on an easing of euro zone debt tensions.

Bucking the trend, Swedbank rose 8 percent after raising its dividend ratio and larger Swedish rival Nordea rose 2 percent on solid earnings.

"Any indication of return of capital will be treated very favourably (by markets)... and that is an indication of an early-stage recovery," Guy Foster, head of portfolio strategy at Brewin Dolphin, said.

Europe has enjoyed a robust if unspectacular start to the earnings season with 57 percent of companies beating or meeting analyst expectations, though quarterly earnings have contracted 0.7 percent year-on-year, according to TRS data

Some traders were cautious ahead of the Federal Reserve meeting and jobs data in the United States on Wednesday.

Jawaid Afsar, a sales trader at Securequity, recommended short-selling index futures around the data if only to unwind the overbought state of the market.

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