* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.3 pct, hovers below recent high
* Alcatel-Lucent rises after promising return to profit
* So far, 61 pct of companies beat forecasts - I/B/E/S
* Switzerland’s Sunrise up 5 pct in market debut (Adds quote, detail, updates prices)
By Blaise Robinson and Alistair Smout
PARIS, Feb 6 (Reuters) - European stocks dipped on Friday to just below recent multi-year highs, held back by mixed earnings as investors looked to the January U.S. non-farm payrolls report due out before Wall Street opens.
Shares in Tate & Lyle were the biggest losers on the STOXX Europe 600, sinking 12 percent after the British ingredients company said annual profits would be below the range it forecast in September, hit by a weak performance in sweeteners in its third quarter.
Danish freight forwarder DSV also featured among the top losers, dropping 3.4 percent after fourth quarter operating profit missed expectations and the group proposed a lower dividend than predicted by analysts in a Reuters poll.
In contrasting earnings news, telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent rose 3.3 percent, after pledging to lift profitability again this year through cost cuts after six straight quarters of gross margin improvements.
About 60 companies listed on the broad STOXX Europe 600 index have reported results, with 61 percent exceeding analyst forecasts for earnings, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data. In a typical quarter, 48 percent of STOXX 600 companies beat estimates.
However, while fourth quarter earnings are expected to increase 24.4 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013, revenue is expected to fall 3.2 percent from the same quarter, suggesting that other firms are also achieving profitability through cost-cutting.
“While a good number of companies are beating earnings estimates, the earnings quality isn’t good. If revenues are flat and profits still beat expectations, that’s not so encouraging,” KCG Europe managing director Ioan Smith said.
Among other standouts, measurement technology and software group Hexagon rose 7.4 percent, hitting record highs after posting forecast-beating earnings and an improvement in sales growth.
Shares in Swiss telecoms company Sunrise made a solid market debut, rising 7.1 percent above its listing price of 68 Swiss francs.
Backed by European private equity fund CVC, Sunrise is raising 1.36 billion francs with the listing, which went ahead despite a surge in the franc after the central bank scrapped the currency’s cap against the euro.
By 1125 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.3 percent at 1,483.02 points, trading in a tight range ahead of the U.S. jobs data, due at 1330 GMT.
Economists polled by Reuters expected U.S. employers to have added 234,000 workers in January, below December’s increase of 252,000.
The jobless rate was expected to remain at a 6-1/2-year low of 5.6 percent, while average hourly earnings were forecast to show a rise of 0.3 percent following the previous month’s fall of 0.2 percent.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword again. A very good figure would be seen as negative for the market, changing the outlook for interest rate hikes,” IG France chief market analyst Alexandre Baradez said.
“It will also be interesting to see the potential damage from the drop in oil prices on the jobs in the U.S. energy sector, with all the cuts in investments.”
Today’s European research round-up
Editing by Louise Ireland