European shares end the year up 7.3 pct

* FTSEurofirst 300 closes down 0.6 pct; volumes thin

* Biggest weekly loss since July as Santa rally peters out

* Autos the biggest gainer in 2010; banks the top loser
(Updates to close)

By Simon Jessop

LONDON, Dec 31 (BestGrowthStock) – 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 percent on the year.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 (.FTEU3: ) index of top
shares ended down 0.6 percent at 1,121.67 on Friday, although
the monthly gain of over 5.1 percent 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 percent 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
(.SXAP: ) index up 45 percent on the year, followed by the STOXX
Europe 600 Industrial Goods & Services (.SXNP: ) index, up 34
percent.

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 (.SX7P: ) ended the year
down 11 percent.

Among the biggest individual stock movers on Friday was
mining heavyweight BHP Billiton (BLT.L: ), which fell 2.4 percent
on renewed market talk it was looking at a $40-billion-plus bid
for Anadarko Petroleum (APC.N: ), though banking sources said
they were unaware of any imminent offer. For more see
[ID:nL3E6NV01K].

Across Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 (.FTSE: ) and France’s CAC
40 (.FCHI: ) both ended down 1.2 percent.
(Additional reporting by Harpreet Bhal; Editing by James
Dalgleish)

European shares end the year up 7.3 pct