European stocks fell from a 4 1/2-year high, with the benchmark index reversing gains in the last hour of trading, as companies from Henkel AG to Legal & General Group Plc posted earnings.
Edenred, Danske Bank A/S and Sacyr Vallehermoso SA paced declining shares as investors sold stakes. Henkel rose to the highest in at least two decades after sales beat analyst forecasts. Legal & General gained 2 percent as the insurer increased its dividend payout.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index retreated 0.3 percent to 293.38 at the close of trading. The gauge jumped 1.8 percent yesterday to the highest since June 2008 after services-industries data in the U.S. and the U.K. topped forecasts and amid optimism central banks will continue monetary stimulus.
“There are still some global risks out there, particularly with relation to the political situation in Europe,” Guillaume Duchesne, an equity strategist at BGL BNP Paribas SA, said in a phone interview from Luxembourg. “It’s better to wait before buying equities.”
National benchmark indexes dropped in 14 of the 18 western European markets. Germany’s DAX added 0.6 percent and France’s CAC 40 retreated 0.4 percent, while the U.K.’s FTSE 100 was little changed. Five companies including BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group traded ex-dividend today, wiping more than 7.6 points off the London gauge.
A private report today based on payrolls showed U.S. companies hired 198,000 workers in February following a revised 215,000 gain the prior month, according to the ADP Research Institute. That beat the median forecast for an increase of 170,000 in a Bloomberg survey. The Labor Department’s monthly employment report is due on Friday.
Among the companies on the Stoxx 600 that have posted results since Jan. 8, about 48 percent have topped analyst estimates for earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Edenred lost 4.5 percent to 25.60 euros, its biggest slide in 10 months. Eurazeo sold 23.1 million shares in the company at 26.13 euros each, representing a 10.2 percent stake, the French investment firm said in a statement today.
Danske Bank dropped 4.7 percent to 106.10 kroner after shareholder Realdania sold a 5.2 percent stake in Denmark’s largest lender for $955 million. The 52 million shares were priced at 105 kroner each and were sold via an accelerated book building managed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup. Realdania now owns a 4.87 percent stake in the bank.
Sacyr slipped 3.6 percent to 1.65 euros after Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said it sold a 2.79 percent stake in the Spanish builder at 1.64 euros per share. The bank purchased the shares from Austral BV before reselling them to investors.
Axel Springer AG tumbled 5.9 percent to 34.13 euros after Europe’s largest newspaper publisher forecast lower profit in 2013 because of spending to accelerate its shift to digital publications amid a declining print business.
The owner of Germany’s largest tabloid also reported a 5.8 percent increase in 2012 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
Henkel rose 2.4 percent to 70.33 euros, the highest price since at least August 1992. The world’s biggest adhesives company reported a 4 percent increase in like-for-like revenue for the fourth-quarter, topping analyst estimates for a 3.2 percent gain. Henkel also forecast sales growth of as much as 5 percent and higher profitability this year.
Legal & General
Legal & General gained 3.3 pence to 166 pence, the highest price in almost six years, as the largest manager of U.K. pension assets raised its dividend 20 percent to 7.65 pence a share after demand for retirement products boosted sales, cash flow and profit.
Admiral Group Plc rallied 5.3 percent to 1,334 pence after the owner of the confused.com website reported a 15 percent increase in full-year pretax profit to 345 million pounds ($519 million). That beat the 331.7 million-pound average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Scor SE increased 2 percent to 22.66 euros after France’s largest reinsurer reported a 27 percent increase in full-year net income to 418 million euros ($543 million) and a 25 percent gain in gross written premiums. The company also proposed a dividend of 1.20 euros per share.
Vodafone Group Plc rallied 6.8 percent to 180 pence, the biggest increase since February 2009, after people familiar with the situation said Verizon Communications is seeking to resolve its relationship with the U.K. company and has weighed options that range from ending its wireless venture with Vodafone to a full merger of the two phone companies.
Vodafone owns a 45 percent stake in the Verizon Wireless subsidiary which is is worth about $115 billion, according to analysts.