* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct following Wednesday’s sell-off
* Brent drops through “pain threshold” of $80 a barrel
* Earnings season strong but lack of revenue growth nags
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, Nov 13 (Reuters) - European stocks were steady on Thursday afternoon, taking a breather following the previous session’s sell-off, although energy shares sank along with Brent crude prices.
Brent futures tumbled nearly 2 percent to below $79 a barrel, hitting a four-year low, dragged down in part by data showing China’s economy further losing momentum in October.
Total was down 1.4 percent and BP down 0.9 percent, while oil services firms Seadrill and Saipem both dropped 4.1 percent.
“$80 per barrel is the pain threshold,” said Alexandre Baradez, chief market analyst at IG France.
“Below that, a lot of the oil majors’ projects are not profitable and a lot of oil-producing countries start to have serious budget issues. It’s also a problem for the euro zone because it drags down inflation.”
The prospect of belt-tightening by energy majors as oil prices plunge has hurt the oil services sector, with some shares plummeting between 30 percent and 65 percent in recent months.
At 1448 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.1 percent at 1,344.59 points. The benchmark index, which dropped 1.1 percent on Wednesday, has been stuck in a tight range since late October.
On the earnings front, Iliad gained 3.8 percent after the French telecom group said it added more mobile subscribers than analysts expected in the third quarter.
KBC rose 6.2 percent after the Belgian financial group posted a better-than-expected net profit, while Portuguese retailer Jeronimo Martins surged 8.1 percent after reassuring investors that it still expects strong sales growth and profitability at its leading unit, Poland’s Biedronka.
With the European earnings season nearing an end, results overall have been strong, with 60 percent of companies meeting or beating profit forecasts, according to StarMine data.
In absolute terms, however, while profits are up 13 percent, revenues are up a meagre 0.8 percent, highlighting that Europe’s earnings rebound has mostly come from cost-cutting.
“While corporate activity is pretty much stable, operating margins are hitting a peak. People shouldn’t expect a further rise in the margins if there’s no growth in revenue,” said Bruno Fine, head of Roche-Brune Asset Management.
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up (Additional reporting by Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier; Editing by Andrew Roche)