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GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares sell off on U.S. earnings worry

Francesco Canepa
Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 | 4:47 AM ET

* MSCI World down 0.4 pct after weak U.S. earnings pre-announcements

* European shares fall early on

* Dollar comes off two-week low vs basket of currencies

LONDON, date (Reuters) - Global shares slipped on Tuesday as a batch of weak earnings pre-announcements in the United States sparked concerns that the upcoming reporting season may disappoint, leaving some indexes looking expensive after a bumper 2013.

The dollar steadied against a basket of six major currencies bouncing from its lowest since Jan. 2 after a drop fuelled by much weaker-than-expected jobs number on Friday.

Almost 10 of every 11 earnings pre-announcements for the current earnings season from companies in the U.S. S&P 500 index have lowered estimates, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Various U.S. companies that posted weak earnings or forecasts on Monday, including sportswear retailer Lululemon Athletica, saw their stocks hit hard, leaving the S&P 500 nursing its worst one-day fall since November.

European shares followed Wall Street into the red. At 0907 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.6 percent at 1,316.36 points.

After the S&P 500's jump of almost 30 percent last year, its forward price-to-earnings ratio is the highest in nearly seven years. Investors are weighing the risk of paying such a high premium for earnings that may see growth stall.

"Earnings and outlooks have to be good for us to continue to go up," Nick Xanders, head of strategy at BTIG in London, said.

"The multiple expansion has already happened and the earnings have to follow through but I don't think they're going to. The U.S. retail sector is getting beaten up badly."

U.S. banks are in the spotlight this week, with JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs reporting quarterly earnings.

Top analysts are predicting a 7.6 year on year growth in fourth-quarter earnings for companies in the MSCI World index . This represents a slight miss of 0.3 percent on consensus estimates, with the basic materials sector set to post the biggest negative surprise, Thomson Reuters StarMine data showed.

The index, which tracks shares in 45 countries, was down 0.4 percent at 402.31 points, after Japan's Nikkei index, which had been shut on Monday, tumbled 3.1 percent.

DOLLAR/YEN BOUNCES BACK

The dollar gained back half a percent against the yen on Tuesday, bouncing from a four-week low, but was a touch lower against the euro after two sessions which had called a halt to the U.S. currency's bullish start to the new year.

The euro was little changed at $1.3679.

Dollar/yen was one of the strongest-performing major currency trades last year, and many hedge funds have been betting the trend will continue as the Federal Reserve cuts back its bond-buying programme while the Bank of Japan remains committed to providing stimulus.

"Given the extent of positions in the market and continued softness in U.S. yields this week, USD/JPY could continue to test lower near-term," analysts at BNP Paribas wrote in a note.

Japanese investors were likely to seek higher returns overseas as the yield differential between U.S. government bonds and Japanese government debt widened, further boosting the yen weakness if their investments were not hedged.

"The gradual widening in the rate differential between the U.S. and Japan should also encourage Japanese investors to invest in foreign bonds," Nomura Securities said in a note.

"The expected gradual rise in global yields, while Japanese yields are expected to remain relatively low thanks to the BOJ's JGB investment, should also influence foreign investment in the Japanese market."

SPANISH GROWTH

Spanish bonds held steady on Tuesday as data showing the country's economy grew at its fastest pace since 2008 in the last quarter of 2013 supported underlying demand ahead of a fresh wave of debt sales this week.

The yield on 10-year Spanish government bonds was 3.8 percent, while the benchmark German debt yielded 1.8 percent, according to Tradeweb data.

Among commodities, gold steadied near its highest in a month on Tuesday as safe-haven buying increased.

U.S. crude futures edged 0.3 percent higher to $92.09 a barrel after slipping the previous day as Libyan supply picked up and as the restart of Iranian oil shipments appeared to draw closer.