UPDATE 3-Tech firm ASML leads European shares higher

Tricia Wright
Wednesday, 22 Jan 2014 | 11:23 AM ET

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct

* ASML surges after earnings beat

* ABB knocked by profit warning

LONDON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - European shares eked out gains on Wednesday, led by Dutch technology firm ASML on robust results, as concerns about earnings across the board kept a lid on the market's advance.

ASML, the world's leading provider of tools for making computer chips, was the top performer on the FTSEurofirst 300 by far, up 6.6 percent, after it beat forecasts for its fourth-quarter results and reiterated its upbeat outlook for first-half sales.

Swiss engineer ABB fell 3.4 percent to the bottom of the index after it flagged that its power division would miss profit targets after $260 million in charges due to project delays and restructuring costs.

While 68 percent of companies that have reported so far have beaten or met forecasts for annual earnings, expectations for reports later on in the season are falling as companies such as ABB and Royal Dutch Shell have issued profit warnings.

Some investors had been hoping for a strong earnings season to drive any further share price gains, with valuations in some sectors now sitting at bloated levels after a bumper 2013.

"For some of the areas of the market which are now trading on higher valuations and factoring in a fairly vigorous earnings recovery over the next couple of years, I think increasingly this earnings season is problematic and a headwind for them," Ian Richards, strategist at Exane BNP Paribas, said.

Sectors with aggressive valuations include chemicals and industrials, which trade on respective 12-month forward price/earnings ratios of 14.96 times and 15.6 times, against the STOXX Europe 600 on 13.7 times, Thomson Reuters Datastream shows.

By 1546 GMT, the pan-European FTSEurofirst was up 0.1 percent at 1,347.25, leaving it just shy of a fresh multi-year high touched on Tuesday at 1,353.47. The euro zone's blue-chip STOXX 50 traded flat at 3,153.17 points.

Technical charts pointed to further consolidation for the Euro STOXX 50, which has already broken above the key 3,050 area which previously acted as a resistance level.

"The lows of the 14th of Jan, at 3,072, (are) a potential accumulation zone. I wouldn't want to flip that trade unless we started breaking down through this year's lows - then I'd have to think about more of a squeeze to the downside," Barclays Capital analyst Lynnden Branigan, said.

Today's European research round-up

Asset returns in 2013:

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