European shares fell for the first time in four sessions on Monday, with insurance stocks hit by concern about their exposure to the U.S. hurricane, while a backdrop of weak company results also weighed.
Traders added that the bias was to bet on further falls in the market, due to a weak economy and persistent worries over the euro zone debt crisis.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index was down by 0.6 percent at 1,090.86 points around midday. The euro zone’s blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index fell 0.9 percent to 2,474.40 points.
Analysts expected equities to make little progress this week, with volumes expected to be low given the closure of U.S. stock and options markets on Monday due to Hurricane Sandy.
The hurricane’s arrival hit insurers, with the STOXX 600 European insurance sector among the worst-performing equity indexes as it fell 1.5 percent on worries over potential claims arising from damage caused by the hurricane.
“I think it’s fairly natural that the market’s fretting a wee bit in terms of potential exposure,” said Shore Capital analyst Eamonn Flanagan.
BET ON THE DOWNSIDE
Swiss bank UBS bucked the trend of falling stocks by rising 4.9 percent following media reports that it will announce up to 10,000 job cuts.
Analysts said that cutting costs in this way would potentially help it return more capital to shareholders and boost returns for investors.
However, traders said investors’ bias was to bet on European stock markets falling further, with companies’ weak third-quarter results a cause for concern.
According to Thomson Reuters Starmine data, 47 percent of the companies on the European STOXX 600 index to have reported earnings have performed below expectations.
Mike Turner, European equity options broker at XBZ Ltd, said clients were taking out “put” options in expectations of European equity markets losing more ground.
He said there was solid demand for “put” options on the Euro STOXX 50 index with strike prices of 2,000 points and 2,100 points due to mature in December – implying expectations that the index may fall by nearly 500 points by then.
Central Markets senior trader Joe Neighbour also backed selling the Euro STOXX 50 and the German DAX index on any signs of rallies, since he felt European markets would remain under pressure from the region’s sovereign debt crisis.
Spain remains under pressure to seek a financial rescue that would trigger ECB bond purchases, and uncertainty over how the country will resolve its debt problems continues to weigh on the market.
“We would sell into strength. Our concern is still that Europe is far from fixed,” he said.
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