European shares mixed before earnings season kicks off

European stock markets closed mixed but mostly lower Tuesday as investors digested company news and were cautious ahead of US aluminium giant Alcoa kicking off the quarterly earnings season.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies slid 0.18 percent to 6,053.63 points and Frankfurt's DAX 30 dropped 0.48 percent to 7,695.83 points, while in Paris the CAC 40 edged up 0.03 percent to 3,705.88 points.

The European single currency fell to $1.3074, compared with $1.3115 late in New York on Monday. And on the London Bullion Market, gold prices firmed to $1,656 per ounce, from $1,645.25.

"There is an element of caution in the markets ... with Alcoa to kick of the reporting season tonight," said analyst Craig Erlam at trading group Alcoa.

With the US fiscal crisis out of the way until talks next month on raising the country's borrowing limit and cutting spending, eyes are now on the upcoming earnings season and economic indicators.

European indicators gave little sense of direction.

The unemployment rate in the eurozone hit a record 11.8 percent in November, as expected, but eurozone and EU retail sales edged up in November and economic confidence improved in December.

Trader Alex Young at CMC Markets UK said "it seems that sitting on ones hands for now is the preferred option until companies start to give a clearer idea of what their forward guidance is likely to be..."

In London, global miner Anglo American named AngloGold Ashanti boss Mark Cutifani as its new chief executive to succeed Cynthia Carroll with effect from April.

Australian Cutifani, 54, has been chief executive officer of South Africa-based gold producer AngloGold Ashanti since 2007, during which time he has led a major restructuring of the business.

Anglo's share price surged 1.4 percent to 2,028 pence in London as investors welcomed the appointment of a highly respected leader in the global mining industry.

"The new CEO comes with a proven track record and the confirmation of his appointment has contributed to a spike in the share price," noted analyst Richard Hunter at British brokerage Hargreaves Lansdown.

"Investors will now be hoping that the fortunes of Anglo American can be revived after a period of relative underperformance."

Air France-KLM airline reported that firm business in Europe and Asia had enabled it to increase passenger traffic by 2.1 percent last year but also revealed that freight traffic fell by 6.3 percent.

In response, Air France-KLM shares fell by 2.2 percent to 7.76 euros in Paris trade.

US stocks moved lower with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 0.53 percent to 13,313.66 points in midday trading.

The broad-based S&P 500 fell 0.52 percent to 1,454.34, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.55 percent to 3,081.62 points.

Alcoa launches the fourth quarter earnings season after the US markets close on Tuesday, but Monsanto reported a 169 percent rise in profit for its quarter to November 30 on strong corn seed sales in the US and Latin America. Its shares surged 2.5 percent to $98.36.

Asian equity markets retreated on Tuesday, following overnight losses in New York, as dealers took profits from recent advances.

Tokyo was also weighed by a rise in the yen, which has suffered heavy selling in recent weeks, while the South Korean bourse slipped on disappointment over the latest earnings guidance from Samsung Electronics.

Hong Kong stocks lost 0.94 percent, Seoul was 0.66 percent lower, Shanghai fell 0.41 percent, Sydney dipped 0.57 percent and Tokyo slid 0.86 percent.

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