Beverage firms led Europe's top shares lower Wednesday, as mixed corporate results and cooling hopes over the prospect of further economic stimulus in the U.S. saw the recent rebound lose steam.
Heineken NV (HEIN.AS), the world's third largest brewer, shed 14.6 percent as it said depressed consumer confidence and poor summer weather would hit second-half figures after first-half profit fell short of expectations.
The results helped drag the Europe 600 Food & Beverage .SX3P index 2 percent lower, with the world's largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), which recently warned of challenging times in its biggest market the United States, down 3.2 percent.
Investors in these austere market continue to punish corporates that fail to fully meet their expectations or show any sign of weakness.
Shares in London-listed motor insurer Admiral (ADML.L) fell more than 6 percent with analysts citing a rise in the company's combined ratio -- a measure of how profitable an insurer is -- as a reason for the stock's decline, despite the company posting higher interim earnings.
At 3:50 a.m. EDT, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 markets index was down 0.4 percent at 920.38 points after rising 0.8 percent in each of the past two trading days on hopes further quantitative easing from the United States would prevent a global recession.
We had a lot of excitement before as we headed into the last euro summit, much of the hype failed to come to fruition, so I think we've got be cautious, Henk Potts, equity strategist at Barclays Wealth, told Reuters.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is set to make a key speech at an annual central bank conference in Jackson Hole on Friday, where it is expected he will provide hints for further measures to revive the struggling economy.
I think there will be a lot of promoting the positives, so long on principal short on detail, Potts said.
He added the markets are now pricing in a recession, which Barclays did not believe was the likely scenario to be played out over the next couple of years and remained relatively positive on the prospects for equities.
Across Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 finance/markets/index?symbol=gb%21ftse>.FTSE fell 0.3 percent, Germany's DAX .GDAXI gained 0.2 percent and France's CAC40 .FCHI climbed 0.1 percent.
Hopes remain that even if a third round of QE from the United States does not materialize, corporates' ability to adapt quickly to the worsening macro economic outlook and their robust balance sheets would support the investment case for equities.
From our viewpoint, we are convinced that the economies worldwide will continue to expand, albeit perhaps at a more pedestrian pace than many had expected, but on that basis equities look - at least temporarily - like a bargain, said Lothar Mentel, chief investment officer at Octopus Investments, which manages $4 billion.
Belgium-based insurer Ageas (AGES.BR) rose 9 percent as it announced it would start a share buyback program of its outstanding common stock for a maximum amount of up to 250 million euros, despite reporting less-than-expected first-half profit.
Elsewhere, WPP Plc (WPP.L), the world's largest advertising group, rose 3.4 percent after saying it would plan for 2012 on a conservative basis, although strength in emerging markets has so far helped it to post 7-month growth broadly in line with its annual forecast.
Nine out of 10 STOXX Europe 600 .STOXX companies due to report in the second-quarter earnings season have done so, with half beating or meeting expectations and half missing, Thomson Reuters StarMine data showed.
The average earnings miss of those who reported was 22.6 percent, the data showed, while earnings for the third quarter have subsequently been downgraded by an average 2.9 percent.
(Reporting by David Brett, Simon Jessop and Jon Hopkins; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)