UPDATE 1-Margins in focus as results drive big swings in European stocks

* STOXX up 0.2 pct

* Sopra Steria soars 18 pct on better margin outlook

* Elekta tumbles 8 pct after results

* ASM International bucks chip trend, jumps 6.7 pct (Updates prices, adds quotes, details, graphic)

LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Europe's main benchmarks barely budged on Friday but company results including Sweden's Elekta, Switzerland's Sika and France's Sopra Steria drove big swings in stocks as investors awaited news from crucial U.S.-China trade talks.

The STOXX 600 and Germany's DAX were up 0.1 and 0.2 percent by 0930 GMT, with the main action at the share level.

Shares in Sopra Steria topped the STOXX 600, up 16 percent after the French IT services and consulting firm reported full-year results and said it was targeting an improvement in margins this year.

"This should help ease concerns of 'on-going pricing pressure' as the worst seems to be behind us now following the profit warning in Q3 2018," said Georgios Kertsos, an analyst at Berenberg.

Chipmaker ASM International jumped 6.3 percent after it said fourth-quarter order intake hit a record high of 301.6 million euros, well above its forecast.

Its strong results bucked a trend of weakness in a semiconductor sector hit by trade tariffs and slowing global car demand.

Swiss construction chemicals maker Sika also rose 4.6 percent after full-year profit beat expectations.

Meanwhile Elekta brought up the rear with a 10.6 percent slide after the Swedish radiation therapy equipment maker reported third-quarter earnings well below market expectations, and cut its full-year margin forecast.

"This disappointment is reinforced by weak cash flow due to a high level in invoicing late in the quarter, which may raise questions amongst investors over the quality of the revenue beat," said UBS analysts.

Margin pressure has been a broader theme across European shares this earnings season, with the gap between revenue beats and earnings beats growing as companies face rising costs.

Elsewhere the food and beverage sector was the worst-performing, down 0.8 percent, after U.S.-based Kraft Heinz reported weak results, sending its shares down 20 percent in after-hours Wall Street trade.

AB Inbev fell 2.3 percent, Nestle lost 0.6 percent and Danone dipped 0.4 percent. Unilever also dropped 0.9 percent.

Kraft Heinz and AB InBev share a stakeholder: 3G Capital.

RBC analysts said that "given overlapping ownership between the two companies and similar cultures of margin maximization, we wouldn’t be surprised if investors make some connection.

In other results, Saint Gobain shares fell 1.4 percent after the company reported a slump in annual net profit, blaming asset impairments amid uncertainty over the economy.

Shares in car parts maker Valeo seesawed in early deals after its results, first gaining as much as 4 percent and then falling back to trade down 0.8 percent at 0930 GMT.

Valeo's full-year guidance indicates mid-to-high single digit downgrades to consensus are likely, UBS analysts said.

French meal vouchers firm Edenred jumped 7.2 percent after reporting record 2018 earnings and sounding a confident note about growth this year.

In the UK, M&A livened up trading. Dairy Crest shares surged 12.9 percent after Canada's Saputo bought Britain's largest dairy food company for about 975 million pounds ($1.3 billion).

(Reporting by Helen Reid Editing by Danilo Masoni and Mark Heinrich)

02/22/2019 5:13

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