* FTSEurofirst 300 ends steady after choppy trading
* Results from Credit Agricole, Henkel support
* Fiat slips on scepticism over a new business plan
By Atul Prakash
LONDON, May 7 (Reuters) - European equities inched higher on Wednesday as positive company earnings narrowly outweighed a sharp fall in Fiat shares over scepticism about its new business plan.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended 0.1 percent up at 1,344.65 points after falling earlier in the day to 1,337.75, the lowest since late April.
Credit Agricole, France’s third-biggest listed bank, rose 6.8 percent to top the FTSEurofirst 300 leader board after reporting a 30 percent rise in net income in the first quarter.
Germany’s Henkel climbed 5.4 percent after beating expectations with results, while Coloplast gained 4.3 percent after surpassing forecasts and raising its revenue outlook.
“European earnings have not been as good as U.S. company results in the first quarter, but their medium- to longer-term outlook is positive,” Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets, said.
“European earnings will improve going forward as a lot of companies have cut costs and are now lean and mean, which means that their earnings will improve with an economic recovery.”
The biggest faller on the FTSEurofirst 300 was Fiat Chrysler , which tumbled 11.7 percent as investors were unconvinced by its plan to boost sales by 60 percent by 2018 and almost wipe out its debt, analysts said.
Fiat’s tumble helped drag Italy’s benchmark FTSE MIB index down 1.3 percent, while a 7.5 percent drop in shares of aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica on the back of lower-than-expected earnings also took their toll.
Experian, the world’s biggest credit data company, fell 6.5 percent, despite reporting an 8 percent rise in annual earnings, as its Chief Executive Don Robert said growth in the first half could be constrained.
According to Thomson Reuters StarMine, 47 percent of companies in the STOXX Europe 600 index have reported first-quarter results so far, of which 48 percent have met or beaten expectations, while the rest have missed.
“The market could get further support if the current reporting season indicates that company profits are rising,” said Koen De Leus, senior economist at KBC in Brussels.
“It would also help valuations to look attractive again. First indications in Europe, however, point to a limited rise in profits.”
The broader European stock market’s recovery late in the session was helped by news that Russian President Vladimir Putin had called on pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine to postpone a vote on secession just five days before it was to be held.
“While the Ukrainian crisis has forced many investors and traders to rethink their short to mid-term investment strategy, with some of them putting their stock buying plans on hold for now, very few at this stage see the need to actually liquidate their portfolios in a major way,” Markus Huber, senior sales trader at Peregrine & Black, said.
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up (Editing by Hugh Lawson)