* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.7 pct, up 16 pct in Q1
* DAX set to record best Q1 gain since creation in 1988
* About 665 bln euros in market value created in Q1
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, March 31 (Reuters) - European shares fell on Tuesday, taking a breather from their sharp rally of the past three months triggered by the drop in the euro, with Germany’s DAX index set to record its biggest first quarter gain since its creation in 1988.
As the quarter draws to an end, the DAX is up 22 percent, while the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares is up 16 percent, strongly outpacing Wall Street where the S&P 500 is up 0.8 percent since the start of the year.
Shares in the euro zone have seen the bulk of the gains, climbing 19 percent overall, a rise of about 665 billion euros ($712 billion) in market value over the past three months, data from Thomson Reuters Datastream shows.
That is more than half the size of the ECB’s quantitative easing programme, launched this month.
A survey of around 50 fund managers and strategists conducted in the past week predicted the pan-European STOXX Europe 600 index would rise more than 6 percent from current levels to 425 points by the end of 2015.
The euro currency has retreated on prospects of the ECB scheme, which was launched this month, contrasting with the trajectory of monetary policy in the United States where the Federal Reserve is seen raising interest rates this year.
“The question is whether being a late starter has left the ECB and Europe too far behind and too close to deflation. The next two quarters will be key to understanding if Europe can scrape past and start to accelerate,” said Lorne Baring, managing director, B Capital Wealth Management in Geneva.
At 1400 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.7 percent, at 1,584.26 points.
Investors were booking profits on auto stocks, the sector which has risen the most since the start of the year. BMW was down 1.7 percent, and Renault down 2 percent. Despite the day’s losses, the sector is still up 32 percent in the quarter.
UK’s FTSE 100 index was down 1.6 percent, dragged lower by energy shares such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell , down 1.9 percent and 2.1 percent respectively, as oil prices sank again.
Bank of Ireland fell 8 percent after Canada’s Fairfax Financial Holdings sold a 2.9 percent stake in the bank.
Germany’s DAX index was down 0.9 percent on the day, and France’s CAC 40 down 0.8 percent, as investors booked recent gains.
“Markets are ending the strongest quarter in years,” said Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets, in Brussels.
“As of tomorrow, we may be in a different world. Markets are very ‘overbought’ and will be looking for a reason to correct or consolidate,” he said.
Europe bourses in 2015: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2015: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up
Additional reporting by Atul Prakash in London; Editing by Alison Williams