* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct; Metro gains 4.1 pct
* Energy shares fall as Brent hits $45 a barrel
* Morrisons stock rallies as CEO steps down
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - European stocks inched up in early trade on Tuesday, with Germany’s Metro rallying after the retailer reported strong Christmas sales at some of its core units.
Shares in Metro, Europe’s fourth-biggest retailer, gained 4.1 percent as the group said it saw a recovery gaining pace at three of its four businesses in the important Christmas quarter.
However, the relentless drop in oil prices added to worries over the outlook for corporate profits in the energy sector.
Total was down 1.9 percent and Royal Dutch Shell down 1.5 percent as Brent futures tumbled to $45.43 a barrel, down 4.2 percent despite China reporting record crude imports. Oil prices have plunged almost 60 percent since June last year.
The United Arab Emirates’ oil minister, Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, on Tuesday stood by OPEC’s decision in November not to cut output to tackle a glut in the market.
“Investors are bracing for some serious damage in the energy sector’s fourth-quarter earnings, and with oil dropping further this month, the outlook for revenue and profit looks grim,” Saxo Bank trader Andrea Tueni said.
“Even though in the long term, it’s good news for a lot of sectors and the economy overall, the speed at which oil is going down is spooking the market.”
Profit forecasts for energy companies have dropped sharply in recent months, with fourth-quarter earnings for the U.S. sector now expected to have declined 21.1 percent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed.
However, the drop in oil was set to support earnings in other sectors. Late on Monday, metals major Alcoa kicked off the U.S. earnings season with higher-than-expected quarterly profit, citing brisk demand from the auto sector, higher aluminum prices and lower energy costs.
At 0855 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.1 percent at 1,357.62 points.
Around Europe, UK’s FTSE 100 index was up 0.2 percent, Germany’s DAX index flat, and France’s CAC 40 down 0.2 percent.
Shares in UK retailer Morrisons rose 4.4 percent after the group said its Chief Executive Dalton Philips will step down following weak Christmas trading.