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European shares end the year up 7.3 pct

Source: Reuters - Fri 31st Dec 2010

European shares ended the last trading day of 2010 lower in thin holiday trade, posting the biggest weekly fall since July as the December rally petered out, although they were still up 7.3 % on the year.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index of top shares ended down 0.6 % on Friday, although the monthly gain of over 5.1 % remains the strongest since March.

With the majority of major markets already on holiday, including Germany, Spain and Italy, and others such as the UK and France working a shorter day, Friday volumes were low, at just 27 % of the index's 30-day trading average.

In spite of the weak end to the year, most analysts expect further gains in 2011, fuelled by corporate balance sheet strength and government stimulus.

That balance sheet strength, as seen through improving profitability and stronger margins, meant equities remain cheap and this should provide confidence going into the new year, said Howard Wheeldon, strategist at BGC Capital Partners.

"Even after the rises we've had this year, equities are not overvalued," said Wheeldon, adding that with political and sovereign debt concerns continuing to spook some investors, equities offered "an interesting safe haven."

The scale of the market's bounce back from lows earlier in the year, on the back of the euro zone sovereign debt crisis, also gave cause for optimism heading into 2011, said Joshua Raymond, market strategist at City Index.

"We have rallied around 25 percent since the start of July which is a significant confidence booster."

Auto-sector stocks provided the biggest percentage rise over 2010, with the STOXX Europe 600 Automobiles & Parts index up 45 % on the year, followed by the STOXX Europe 600 Industrial Goods & Services index, up 34 %.

Banks proved the year's biggest laggard, beset by capital adequacy concerns and exposure to the sovereign debt crisis, and the STOXX Europe 600 Banks index ended the year down 11 %.

Among the biggest individual stock movers on Friday was mining heavyweight BHP Billiton, which fell 2.4 % on renewed market talk it was looking at a $40-billion-plus bid for Anadarko Petroleum, though banking sources said they were unaware of any imminent offer.

Across Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 and France's CAC 40 both ended down 1.2 %.

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