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Poor results drag European shares down from four-month highs

FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Staff/File Photo

By Danilo Masoni and Helen Reid

MILAN/LONDON (Reuters) - European shares dipped on Thursday, weighed down by several weak earnings updates and after data showed that euro zone factory output unexpectedly fell last month.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index ended the day down 0.3 percent, while Germany's DAX was up 0.2 percent and France's CAC 40 held flat.

Euro zone factory output slammed into reverse last month as activity in Germany declined again amid trade tensions and struggles in the auto sector, surveys showed.

"There is still widespread concern about how well the economy in Europe has been performing in recent months," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

The STOXX 600 however remained just below its highest level in more than 4 months on optimism over progress in China-U.S. trade talks. The index is up 10 percent so far this year.

A Reuters report said Washington and Beijing had started to outline commitments on the stickiest issues in their trade dispute, marking the most significant progress yet towards ending a seven-month trade war.

Moeller-Maersk was a top STOXX 600 loser, down 10 percent after the Danish shipping group guided to $4 billion EBITDA for 2019, far below analysts' expectations.

"We had been concerned consensus was too high... but this is still surprising," said Berenberg analysts.

The world's largest container shipping company warned trade headwinds would slow growth this year.

Another major disappointment came from Centrica which sank 11.7 percent after warning a national price cap on energy bills would hit its 2019 results, while TechnipFMC tumbled 6.9 percent after the oil services company posted a fourth-quarter loss.

Siltronic fell 8.9 percent after the silicon wafer company cut its 2019 core profit margin guidance.

Prysmian was another heavy faller, sliding 9.6 percent, after the Italian cable maker said it detected a system failure in its WesternLink Interconnection, leaving the electric cable which connects Scotland to Wales out of operation.

Banks were the biggest sectoral losers, down 1.8 percent.

Swedbank, 9.3 percent lower, added to heavy losses from a day earlier when a report linked one of the biggest lenders in the Baltic countries to a regional money laundering scandal involving Danske Bank.

Barclays outperformed the sector but ended the day down 0.1 percent, having risen as much as 3.5 percent earlier after results.

Leading the STOXX 600 and among rare gainers was Genmab which jumped 6.9 percent after the Danish drugmaker reported sales of its Darzalex drug boosted revenue more than expected.

Earnings growth expectations: https://tmsnrt.rs/2TZCNi9

(Reporting by Danilo Masoni and Helen Reid; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)