European Shares Stagger After Weak UK and US Data

European shares slipped on Friday as disappointing economic data in the UK and U.S. dampened sentiment, but technical support and on-going central bank stimulus measures kept indexes at multi-month highs.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index provisionally closed down 0.1 percent or 1.01 points at 1,164.53 points.

The outlook for global growth took a knock after a shock fall in UK retail sales cast a pall over 2013 expectations, while in the United States consumer sentiment unexpectedly deteriorated for a second straight month to its lowest in over a year.

That dented momentum in retailers and took some of the shine off gains in miners, which rose after data in China showed economic growth accelerated for the first time in two years in December.

The media sector outperformed however on Friday, boosted after Berenberg raised its target price for Italian firm Mediaset.

"We have had the good China data and reasonable earnings in the U.S. which has been quite supportive. I think the markets can push higher but we are running out of catalysts," Guy Foster, head of portfolio strategy at Brewin Dolphin, said.


Meanwhile, nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant deep in the Sahara, Algeria's state news service said Friday, three days into a bloody siege with Islamic militants.

The price of Brent Crude jumped and then steadied above $111 per barrel on Thursday after news of the situation. Shares in BP and Statoil, which own stakes in the gas plant, declined.

David Cameron postponed a highly-anticipated speech on Britain's future in Europe on Friday because of the crisis in Algeria. According to reports, Cameron was set to warn that Britain will drift towards an EU exit unless the union is reformed. He was expected to commit to a referendum on the issue, but not until after the 2015 general election.

On the continent, Olli Rehn, the European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, told a Spanish newspaper that better financing costs have alleviated pressure on Spain to request a financial bailout. Rehn's comments come after the Spanish Treasury sold around 4.5 billion euros ($6.02 billion) of bonds on Thursday, with falling borrowing costs indicative of warming investor sentiment.