German, Italian shares firm, European stocks off Jan high
* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.3 pct
* German ZEW expected to show brightening picture of economy
* Investors welcome prospect of new Italian government
* BHP fails to lift miners after strong rally
By Alistair Smout and Joshua Franklin
LONDON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - German stocks outperformed regional peers in cautious trade early on Tuesday ahead of data expected to show improved sentiment over Europe's biggest economy, while top European shares edged off three-week highs.
Investors were also cheered by Italian politics, where centre-left leader Matteo Renzi has received a mandate to form a new government, promising rapid tax, labour and institutional reforms to revive a deeply troubled economy.
The German DAX held steady as investors anticipated the ZEW economic think-tank's poll of German economic sentiment for February, due at 1000 GMT. The survey is seen steady at 61.7, while the forecast for current conditions is expected to rise to 44 from 41.2 in the previous month.
A positive reading could lend fresh support to the region's equities after Germany and France posted stronger-than-expected growth data. Continuación...