European Shares Slide, Set For Worst Quarter Since '08

European shares opened lower on Friday, on track to record their worst quarterly performance since late 2008, as markets grapple with slowing global growth and a long-running euro zone sovereign debt crisis.

Cyclical stocks, including those in the autos and luxury sectors, led fallers across the region, weighed by growth concerns and bearish broker comment, with Swiss watchmaker Swatch leading fallers, down 4.4 percent.

At 0740 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European shares was down 0.5 percent at 928.41 points.

It remains on course to record its best week in 26 months, however, helped by a bumper week for the beaten-down financials sector, on hopes politicians will act to limit the effects of the debt crisis, even though it has much further still to run.

While the STOXX Europe 600 Banks index was down 0.7 percent, the euro zone specific index rose 0.4 percent, after lenders particularly exposed to the periphery -- heavily sold off in recent weeks -- continued their bounce back, including Credit Agricole , up 2.4 percent.

"Short-term, we still have the same prospects: the timing of a Greek default, the nature of it, how shared or otherwise; the uncertainty of whether the (second Greek bailout) package needs to be revisited," said Philip Isherwood, head of equity strategy, Europe and UK, at Evolution Securities.

Mining shares , hit hard over the summer and on course to post their worst month in a seven-month losing streak, were lower again, as manufacturing data pointed to a gradual slowdown in demand from top metals consumer China.

Key for equities was the broader macroeconomic environment, which even though extremely sluggish, should improve in the fourth quarter, especially as the market had "pretty fully" priced in a return to recession, Isherwood said.

As a result of the quarter's slide, the "flight to quality" trade had started to become overdone, suggesting a contrarian bet on cyclicals was becoming more attractive.

"In price terms, high quality versus low quality is actually getting very stretched; without a recession, I think it's been done," Isherwood said.

Analysts at UBS cut their year-end target for the pan-European STOXX Europe 600 to 260 from 280 after cutting earnings per share growth estimates. The index was down 0.5 percent at 227.67 points in early Friday trade.


Chart moves pointed to a more bullish short-term outlook for the euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index, however, with a minor double-bottom at around 1,995 as support, said Bill McNamara, technical analyst at Charles Stanley.

"It is also encouraging that the rally off the lows has lifted the index through its short-term downtrend, and it does look like further positive news from EU leaders could drive it back up to its recent intermediate top at around 2,300," he said.

"If no resistance is encountered there, then the next area of possible resistance is at around 2,355 -- the peak on August 17 and a 50 percent retracement of the decline that began in late July."