* FTSEuro first flat at midday
* Akzo Nobel, Remy hit by earnings worries
* Moody’s cuts rating on Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena
* Nokia gains despite another quarter of losses
* Miners rise after China growth data
By David Brett
LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Europe’s leading shares were steady around midday on Thursday as weak earnings from companies in the region capped momentum on an index which is hovering near the highs achieved after central bank action last month.
By 1019 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 was up 0.58 of a point at 1,119.20, as gains were snuffed out near the highs of around 1,121 reached after the ECB announced its bond-buying plans in early September.
The biggest fallers on the index were hurt by earnings worries.
AkzoNobel NV, the world’s largest paints maker, fell 4.6 percent after it reported a 2.4 billion euro ($3.15 billion) net loss in the third quarter.
Remy Cointreau shares shed 6.3 percent after the French spirits group said sales growth slowed sharply in the second quarter.
Remy’s results followed a weak update from Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits group, on Wednesday, and proved a drag on sentiment in the sector with Pernod Ricard pulled down 3.4 percent.
Luxury goods company Richemont slipped 3.4 percent after Swiss export data showed watch sales fell for the first time in 2-1/2 years, hit by slowing demand in China.
Sentiment surrounding luxury goods firms has been dented in recent weeks after warnings over slowing sales from Burberry and LVMH.
European companies are expected to grow earnings by 7.8 percent in the third-quarter and, although the results season is in its infancy, corporates in Europe have reported a 1.1 percent contraction in earnings, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data.
“Earnings forecasts have come down but we do not think they have troughed yet,” Andrew Cole, a fund manager at Baring Asset Management, which has 31 billion pounds ($49.9 billion) of assets under management, said.
“Those stocks that have either been defensive or the true stellar growth plays, where investors have paid a high price for growth, and have missed expectations have seen their shares hit badly,” he said.
Cole said he has been putting cash to work in sectors and areas that have been less loved, but not including Europe.
Despite relatively cheap valuations, investors remain cautious over their exposure to euro zone stocks with many fund managers putting recent gains mainly down to the covering of short positions.
“There has certainly been a rotation into cyclicals but whether that is because investors are becoming more optimistic about growth in 2013 or they feel defensives have got too expensive relative to the cyclical sectors remains to be seen,” a London-based trader said.
Nokia, among the most shorted stocks across Europe, rallied 4.9 percent after it released third-quarter results, although the shares are down around 40 percent in 2012.
The mobile phone handset maker reported another quarterly loss and dwindling cash reserves on Thursday, but results were better than expected.
Pitfulls remain for investors in Europe, particularly in the banking sector which has benfitted most from the ECB action.
That was illustrated by a 3.2 percent fall in Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, shares after Moody’s cut its rating by two notches overnight saying the bank may still need to ask for outside help.
Investors will focus on a European leaders summit on Thursday in Brussels, where they will try to bridge deep differences over plans for a banking union, although no substantial decisions are expected.
Weakness in banks helped offset gains among the miners , which rose 1.3 percent after data showed the world’s top commodities consumer, China, grew at a rate of 7.4 percent in the third quarter, matching expectations with figures pointing to a year-end rebound in the Chinese economy.