Friday 23 March 2018

European shares linger at two-month lows, held back by RSA

Alistair Smout

European shares were holding at two-month lows on Friday and are set for their worst fortnight since June, weighed down by a decline in RSA and by concern over the U.S. Federal Reserve's stimulus programme.

RSA plummeted 19pc to an 8-1/2 year low, its biggest one-day drop since 2002, after it warned earnings would fall in 2013 and a possible drop in dividend, leading the CEO to resign.

"People realised things weren't running completely smoothly, but the resignation has definitely come as a surprise," Alastair McCaig, an analyst at IG, said. "The City does like seeing proactive steps being taken, however, and it's good that their skeletons are out of the closet, but it's going to be turbulent today and next week."

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was flat at 1,244.51. It has fallen 4.8 percent in the past two weeks - the biggest two-week drop since June. The index was trading at levels not seen since mid-October.

The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50, which doesn't include British firms such as RSA, was up 0.3pc at 2,929.21. The Euro STOXX 50 index fell in early trade, briefly breaking below its 100-day moving average of 2,926.12, before finding support around that level.

Phillippe Delabarre, a technical analyst at Trading Central, said that falls in recent weeks, including a break below the 50-day simple moving average and intermediate support at 3015 points, "jeopardize the medium-term bullish dynamic."

"On the other hand, prices remain supported by the 100-day simple moving average and above our daily stop-loss at 2850 points (May's & August's highs)."

The declines have come in light volumes, and with another quiet session on Friday, the FTSEurofirst could see its thinnest week of trade since the first week of January.

Traders said that uncertainty over whether the Fed would slow its stimulus programme next week was discouraging the usual "Santa" rally in December. Investors are locking in good year-to-date gains instead.

The FTSEurofirst is up 9.7pc so far this year, but down 4.6pc this month.

"Even if we don't see any slow-up in stimulus from the Fed, we may be too far down on the month to recover that lost ground," McCaig said. "But if they maintain stimulus at this level, that could be the catalyst for gains into year end."

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