European Shares Flat as Traders Mull Mixed Earnings

Markets Reuters

European shares were broadly unchanged by midday on Thursday as mixed company earnings halted the index's march back towards five-year highs.

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Belgian telecoms operator Mobistar slumped 27.9 percent, having cut its revenue and profit forecasts for this year and suspended its dividend after a price war caused earnings to tumble in the second quarter.

Telecoms were down 0.5 percent.

Elsewhere there was more upbeat news, with Swiss private bank Julius Baer adding 5.6 percent after first-half profits beat estimates.

Dutch healthcare, lighting and consumer appliances group Philips climbed 3.9 percent after reporting strong second-quarter results.

Swiss lender UBS added 3.4 percent after another earnings beat.

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"Certainly from core Europe and the German-centric perspective things are starting to look better, but the really upbeat part of that earnings story is probably running ahead of itself," Investec economist Victoria Clarke said.

"The risk is the macro backdrop doesn't come through quite as strong as some of the companies are looking at, and that could be a negative factor for them."

The FTSEurofirst 300 inched up 0.48 points to 1,209.48 by 1030 GMT.

But with the index up around 8.7 percent since June lows and heading back towards five-year highs of around 1,260 hit in May, European stocks now trade on a 12-month forward price-to-earnings valuations of 12.5 times, according to Datastream. That is above a 10-year average of 12.1 times and suggests corporate earnings will need to pick up to justify the re-rating.

In the early stages of the European quarterly earnings season, 51 percent of companies that have reported results have either met or beaten expectations, although year-on-year second-quarter growth has contracted by 4 percent, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data, reflecting a tough economic backdrop.

In the short-term, however, the market remains well supported from a technical point of view.

Steve Ruffley, chief market strategist at InterTrader, said last week's support of 2,662 on the euro zone's blue chip index proved key.

"The next upside target is 2,753. If the Stoxx is to continue higher then we need to see the same scenario, that key resistance is broken and then used as support. If this is the case then the market has no choice but to test 2,822," he said.