* FTSEurofirst index falls 0.7 percent
* Banks feature among top decliners
* Healthcare stocks top gainers for a second day
* Daimler, Skanska, Pearson go ex-dividend (ADVISORY- Reuters plans to replace intra-day European and UK stock market reports with a Live Markets blog on Eikon (see cpurl://apps.cp./cms/?pageId=livemarkets for site in development) (Adds details)
By Danilo Masoni and Atul Prakash
MILAN/LONDON, April 7 (Reuters) - European equities fell on Thursday, as gains in healthcare shares were eclipsed by weaker banks and a fall in stocks like Skanska that traded without the attraction of their latest dividend payouts.
European banks fell 2 percent amid talk of more layoffs and cutbacks planned by Europe’s major lenders as they struggle with zero rates. European Central Bank’s willingness to ease monetary policy further, according to three top officials including its president, also soured sentiment.
German carmaker Daimler fell 4.8 percent as its shares went ex-dividend. Among other companies losing the right to the next payout were Skanska, which fell 8 percent, making the stock the biggest faller on the FTSEurofirst, and Pearson, which slipped 5.2 percent.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was down 0.7 percent by 1414 GMT, with investors reluctant to place strong bets. It was on track for its fourth straight week of losses.
“What markets really would need are more positive global economic data ... indicating a pick-up in economic activity, especially in the euro zone and the U.S.,” City of London Markets trader Markus Huber said.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said in the central bank’s annual report on Thursday that the future of the global economy remained uncertain and there were questions about Europe’s ability to weather new shocks.
Healthcare stocks were the top gainers for a second session, with the sector index rising 0.8 percent after the termination of the Pfizer-Allergan merger deal fueled talk of other consolidation activity in the sector.
Shire rose 1 percent after saying it expected its deal to buy American drugmaker Baxalta to proceed as expected, while elsewhere in the sector Roche also gained 0.7 percent and Astrazeneca advanced 1.2 percent.
Shares in STMicroelectronics gained 4 percent, the top gainer in the STOXX Europe 600 index, with some brokers linking the surge to the strong earnings update from its client Samsung, with the South Korean group flagging a 10 percent jump in quarterly profit.
Other chipmakers also gained, with ARM Holdings and ASML Holding rising 1.5 percent and 0.8 percent respectively.
Randgold Resources rose 3.5 percent to 6,595 pence, the top gainer in the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index, as gold prices jumped on a weaker dollar. The stock was also helped by a move by Credit Suisse to raise its target price for the stock to 6,700 pence from 6,400.
Today’s European research round-up:
ADVISORY- Reuters plans to replace intra-day European and UK stock market reports with a Live Markets blog on Eikon (see cpurl://apps.cp./cms/?pageId=livemarkets for site in development). In a real-time, multimedia format from 0600 London time through the 1630 closing bell, it will include the best of our market reporting, Stocks Buzz service, Eikon graphics, Reuters pictures, eye-catching research and market zeitgeist. Breaking news and dramatic market moves will continue to be alerted to all clients and we will continue to provide a short opening story and comprehensive closing reports.
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Mike Dolan, Markets Editor, EMEA.
Editing by Catherine Evans