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REFILE-Earnings beats help European shares hit fresh 5-year highs

Wednesday, 30 Oct 2013 | 5:25 AM ET

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 4.36 points at 1,292.42

Orkla, Next top risers list after earnings beats

* Earnings downgrades slowing - Datastream

* Standard Life falls as results fail to impress

* Fed expected to confirm delay to tapering after market close

By David Brett

LONDON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Upbeat earnings helped European shares plough ahead early on Wednesday with UK retailer Next and Norwegian conglomerate Orkla among those reporting better than expected quarterly results.

Profit beats for the quarter so far have been roughly in line with the average over the last few quarters - 53 percent of STOXX Europe 600 companies have met or beaten expectations.

But after a grim six months in which analysts have steadily cut forecasts for the next year's earnings, such downgrades are beginning to slow for every sector on the MSCI Europe index. The only exception is insurers, which had already been in upgrade territory.

That is in part the product of an improving European and global economy, but also of expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will hold fire for a while longer before cutting back economic stimulus.

"Rhetoric out of the Fed could be that policy will be easier for longer so if anything there could be a slight dovish surprise," Stewart Richardson, chief investment officer at RMG Wealth management, said, estimating that equity markets could potentially rise a further one percent on the back of a dovish Fed statement, due later on Wednesday.

A majority of U.S. primary dealers said in a Reuters poll that the recent government shutdown and standoff over raising the U.S. debt ceiling had significantly impacted the timing of stimulus reduction by the central bank. The Fed will release a statement at 1800 GMT after a two-day meeting.

Orkla topped the list of gainers in Europe, climbing 4.8 percent, and Next added 4.5 percent after both companies reported earnings ahead of forecasts.

German carmaker Volkswagen rose 4.4 percent after it posted higher third-quarter operating profit as record sales at premium brands Audi and Porsche offset costs of an engineering overhaul.

Norwegian oil major Statoil and Finland's Pohjola Bank also made early gains after posting decent results.

Insurer Standard Life, however, fell 1.8 percent after results with Barclays Capital pointing to the firm's poor set of revenues and weakness in both its long term savings business and in its asset management business as reasons to repeat its "underweight" stance on the company.

By 0733 GMT, the FSTEurofirst 300 had hit a fresh five-year high, up 4.36 points or 0.3 percent at 1,292.42.

RMG's Richardson cautioned, however, that equity markets, at the moment, look overbought and the current collapse of volatility will not last forever and is simply representative of a complacent market reaction that QE will remain with us for an extended period of time.