* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.2 pct, Euro STOXX 50 gains 0.4 pct
* Carrefour surges 8.1 pct after Q4 sales figures
* Defensive stocks outperform
* Rio Tinto slumps after $14 bln writedown
By Sudip Kar-Gupta
LONDON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - European shares edged higher on
Thursday as gains at French supermarket retailer Carrefour
offset losses at miner Rio Tinto after Rio
announced a $14 billion hit.
However, some traders forecast little headway for equities
in the near term as investors adopt a cautious approach due to
worries that results from the region's top companies may show
the strains of the weak global economic backdrop.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index was up by 0.2 percent at 1,161.93
points by around midday, while the euro zone's blue-chip Euro
STOXX 50 index gained 0.4 percent to 2,713.39
"For me, the overall picture is still pretty positive," said
MB Capital trading director Marcus Bullus.
The share prices of companies seen as "defensive" plays in
an uncertain market environment, such as retailers and
healthcare groups which tend to have steady profit growth even
in a weak economy, outperformed on Thursday.
Carrefour rose 8.1 percent after reporting fourth-quarter
sales figures, while Associated British Foods also
gained 7.3 percent after reporting higher sales.
"We prefer defensive sectors such as food and beverages,
personal household goods and healthcare and will remain on the
defensive side, at least during the earnings season," said
Unicredit equity strategist Christian Stocker.
However, a slump at miner Rio Tinto prevented
European equities from making bigger gains.
Rio Tinto took the most points off the FTSEurofirst 300 as
it fell nearly 2 percent after announcing the $14 billion hit
and the resignation of its chief executive.
"There's one or two jitters around," said XBZ Ltd European
equity options broker Mike Turner.
"We're taking some stabs at the upside but without any real
conviction. One of the reasons is maybe because of anticipation
of in-line or weaker-than-in-line corporate results," he added.
Some traders said more signs of strong corporate earnings
from Europe's top companies were needed before European equity
markets could gain more ground.
"There's been a mixed bag on the earnings front so far. In
the short-term, we're in the bear camp," said Darren Easton,
director of trading at London-based Logic Investments.