Fed Minutes Rattle European Market Nerves


European shares were lower in midday trade on Thursday after Federal Reserve comments rattled nerves about the central bank's stimulus policy, and miners were weaker after Chinese data.

Investors were cautious early on after the Federal Reserve signalled it may start withdrawing its monetary stimulus in the next few months.

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The FTSEurofirst fell 3.17 points or 0.3 percent to 1,293.51 by 1145 GMT.

"The immediate impact on the market is a touch of caution - sell Treasuries and take profits on equity positions - but this is understandable with such strong gains seen recently," Richard Perry, market strategist at Central Markets, said. But he predicted buyers would soon return given the amount of liquidity still sloshing around in the system.

Having hit a session low of 1,288.18, European shares pared losses led by Italian banks, which had been under pressure in recent days on concerns about their capital levels.

European stocks have rallied in the past five months, with the euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index surging 22 percent and hitting five-year highs. Better macro data as well as the liquidity pumped in by central banks fuelled the rally.

The advance has lost steam in the past two weeks, however. Mixed company results and concern over how soon the Fed will wind down quantitative easing has blunted investor appetite for risky assets.

The pullback has been halted, however, by the first Fibonacci retracement of the gains that began in August, at 3,015.72. That remains the first big support level, followed by the 38.2 percent retracement at 2,959.47. The STOXX 50 was trading at 3,036.9 at 1145 GMT.

Miners were the main weight on the FTSEurofirst, down 1 percent. The sector was dragged down by data that showed activity in China's vast factory sector grew more slowly in November as new export orders shrank.

Antofagasta shed 2.1 percent after UBS cut its rating on the miner to "neutral" from "buy," citing concern over its outlook for copper and cost headwinds.

Broker comment weighed on other stocks too with Sodexo declining 2.1 percent after Citigroup cut its rating on the services firm to "neutral" on valuation grounds.

The U.S. investment bank also cut its rating to "neutral" on insurer Allianz ALVG.DE, which fell 1.7 percent.

The top faller though was Imperial Tobacco, which shed 3.1 percent. Traders attributed the fall to a readacross from outlook comments from U.S. peer Philip Morris overnight.

On the upside, Johnson Matthey, the world's largest maker of catalysts to control car emissions, rose 3.2 percent after posting a 13 percent rise in first-half profit.

Earnings remain a headwind for European equities trading above multi-year average valuations; 49 percent of firms have missed profit forecasts in the current quarter, while almost two-thirds have missed revenue estimates.