London: European shares closed flat on Wednesday as a report showing a large increase in US job creation was countered by a stronger dollar that helped weaken metals prices and halt a rally in the mining sector.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index of top shares rose 0.04% to close at 1,142.46 points, with the US jobs data helping it climb off a day’s low of 1,128.49.
Metals prices retreated after a strong run, sending some heavyweight mining shares lower. Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto fell between 0.6 and 1.7%.
US private employers added 297,000 jobs in December, the biggest rise since at least 2001, a report showed. The median estimate from 27 economists surveyed by Reuters for the ADP Employer Services report was for 100,000.
Adding to the feeling of a strong recovery in the world’s biggest economy, the US non-manufacturing sector grew in December at its fastest pace in more than four years, according to an industry report.
“The ADP and ISM data would suggest things are going very well, though if it’s going so well then central banks will have to put up interest rates,” said Andy Lynch, fund manager at Schroders.
The ADP figures came ahead of the US government’s much more comprehensive labour market report on Friday, which includes public and private sector employment.
Energy stocks were among the gainers as crude prices shrugged off the stronger dollar and reversed earlier losses, with Brent topping $95 after a US government report showed that inventories had fallen more than expected.
Total, ENI, BP and Statoil rose between 0.4% and 1.3%. Oil services firm Technip rose 3% after a contract win in Vietnam.
“The market has been dragged higher by commodities in the last year and, if you can see a US recovery this year, it’s probably got further to go,” a London-based trader said.
Heavyweight banks to rise included HSBC, up 3.1%.
Across Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.5% to its highest close in 31 months. Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC40 fell 0.5% and 0.3% respectively.
The European benchmark rose 7.3% in 2010, after gaining more than 25% in 2009. It is up 77% from its lifetime low in March 2009 with several major economies having emerged from recession, helped by stimulus from governments worldwide and central banks cutting interest rates.
“Equities will beat bonds in 2011, but I doubt we’re in for a rise like 20-plus percent,” Lynch said.
Euro zone worries
Some analysts say the market’s focus will return to the euro zone’s problems.
Figures showed service sector growth slowed in December after activity in Ireland and Spain shrank, highlighting a two-speed regional recovery as business continued to expand in France and Germany.
Portugal’s six-month borrowing costs soared from a previous auction in September.
European chemical shares were among the fallers, with the STOXX Europe 600 chemicals index down 0.8% on concerns about a slowdown in world demand.
Global chemicals market leader BASF fell 1.6%, with traders pointing to profit taking following a strong run. The stock had gained almost 22% since early October.
HSBC strategists remained upbeat. “The global bull market that began in March 2009 is approaching its second anniversary. We see nothing on the horizon to stop it yet,” they said in a note.
“We think global earnings growth this year is likely to be close to the consensus forecast of 15%. Valuations are cheap: the forward PE for global equities is 12.3, whereas at the start of the third year of previous bull markets it averaged 18.”