Shares head for best week in 8 months

Further gains capped by concerns about Chinese money market tensions

European shares are  still riding the positive momentum of a Federal Reserve decision  that underlined growing optimism over the US economy. Photo: Bloomberg

European shares are still riding the positive momentum of a Federal Reserve decision that underlined growing optimism over the US economy. Photo: Bloomberg

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 09:02

European equities steadied today, consolidating at the end of their best week in eight months with further gains capped by year-end profit taking and concerns about Chinese money market tensions.

China’s benchmark money market rates hit six-month highs overnight, reviving memories of a massive cash crunch that occurred in June.

Broad sentiment, though, remained fairly upbeat after Wednesday’s Federal Reserve meeting.

The US central bank trimmed monthly bond purchases by $10 billion, sugar-coating the reduced stimulus with a signal that interest rates were likely to stay low for longer than previously expected.

Although the taper came earlier than many had forecast, markets had plenty of time to prepare for the move which was first flagged in May, and the Fed’s decision removed the policy uncertainty that had kept many investors on the sidelines.

“It is still highly accommodative policy from the Fed,” said Ioan Smith, strategist at KCG.

“People have adopted the attitude that OK, they are tapering but it’s probably more of a syumbolic gesture than anything else.”

However, with European equity investors already sitting on gains of nearly 30 per cent from the past two years, traders said many had already closed their books for 2013, with few willing to gamble with their profits in the final days of the year.

“It will be low volume, low volatility and going slightly higher,” said Peter Garnry, strategist at Saxo Bank.

The FTSEurofirst 300 rose 0.1 per cent to 1,283.60 points by 0843 GMT. That takes its gains so far this week to 3.3 per cent - on track for its biggest weekly rise since April.

Carnival was one of the top risers, up 2.8 per cent, after several brokers upgraded the cruise ship operator following solid quarterly results the previous session.

The EuroSTOXX 50 was flat at 3,032.14 points. Traders said in the very near term there could be some volatility as a result of the final options expiry of the year.

For the EuroSTOXX 50, the 3,000 point mark could be key, with heavy open interest in both puts and calls at that level.

Overall, some 4.9 million call options - which bet on market gains - on the euro zone blue-chip index are due to expire the Eurex exchange, alongside 6.7 million puts, which are used to position for or insure against market weakness.

Reuters