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European shares fall back from three weeks of sharp gains


An information panel displays Bankia and IBEX 35 trading

An information panel displays Bankia and IBEX 35 trading

An information panel displays Bankia and IBEX 35 trading

European shares pulled back from three weeks of sharp gains today, causing many regional indexes to fall from multi-year highs, as weak corporate outlooks darkened the earnings picture.

Fresenius Medical Care (FMC) fell 7.1 percent after it unexpectedly forecast another decline in profit for 2014 amid cuts to healthcare budgets in the United States. Shares in Fresenius, which controls FMC, fell 8.8 percent.

German chemicals firm BASF trimmed 15 points from the DAX, dropping 1.7 percent after its own update.

Although above-estimate profit helped the stock gain in early deals, a lack of clarity over its outlook, as well as comments by its CEO that it would focus on using extra capital for takeovers rather than share buybacks, hit the stock.

Outlook worries also hit French telecom firm Vivendi , British industrial GKN and oil drilling firm Seadrill.

"The sectors today that have reported negative results have come from the telcos, which we're a bit cautious on anyway, and healthcare. It's more defensive sectors where we've seen these weaker results," said James Butterfill, global equity strategist at Coutts.

Growth-sensitive cyclical stocks also suffered, however, after driving three weeks of gains in European stock markets.

Basic resources was the top sectoral faller, down 1.9 percent, with miners suffering on concerns about China as the yuan fell below the official midpoint of its trading range.

Butterfill said he preferred cyclical stocks as they should benefit from a pick-up in growth and earnings, and he cautioned against inferring a trend from one day's move.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was down 0.4 percent at 1,346.10 at 1138 GMT, having gained 6.4 percent in the last three weeks. It posted a six-year closing high on Monday that left it substantially overbought, with a nine-day relative strength indicator reading of 92.

If a market has an RSI above 70, it indicates it is technically "overbought" while under 30 shows it is technically "oversold".

The French CAC and British FTSE 100 closed Monday at 5-1/2 and 14-year highs respectively, well into overbought territory.

The German DAX did not manage to surpass its January high on Monday, and falls in Fresenius and BASF meant that it failed to challenge that peak on Tuesday.

However, but for the heavyweight fallers, appetite for German equities was relatively strong, as data showed that foreign trade growth had driven Europe's largest economy in the fourth quarter.

While the headline 0.4 percent increase in gross domestic product just confirmed an earlier flash number, the pick-up in foreign trade, which had been weak in 2013, was encouraging, traders said. Weakening domestic demand meanwhile left room for further policy easing by the European Central Bank.

"Consumer demand inside Germany goes a long way to helping the inflationary environment of the EU, and we've reverted to a relatively unenthusiastic spender inside of Germany," IG analyst Alastair McCaig said.

"It's more likely that we'll get more stimulus (from the ECB) if Germany also needs to boost consumption demand."

Online Editors