European shares up for 4th day on results beats, stimulus talk

Wed Apr 24, 2013 1:10pm EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.7 pct, Euro STOXX 50 up 1.5 pct

* Talk of ECB stimulus boosts indexes

* Standard Life, Jeronimo Martins lead gainers

By Francesco Canepa

LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) - European shares chalked up a fourth straight session of gains on Wednesday, helped by some upbeat corporate results and mounting speculation about a further easing of monetary policy in the euro zone.

British insurer Standard Life and Portuguese retailer Jeronimo Martins led gainers after announcing strong first-quarter numbers.

The stocks surged 8 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively, in volume three and five times their average for the past 90 days.

They helped offset a 5.1 percent fall in the world's third largest brewer, Heineken, which lowered its expectations for growth this year due to economic austerity in Europe and inflation in Nigeria.

"Earnings are encouraging," Oliver Wallin, investment director at Octopus Investments, said.

"There are still winners and losers at a company level, so we're still backing stock pickers over broad indiscriminate indices."

The average correlation among stocks in the euro zone Euro STOXX index was just over 50 percent in the last 30 days, compared to a high of 80 percent in early 2012, Datastream data showed.

Standard Life and Jeronimo Martins topped the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index, which closed 0.7 percent higher at 1,191.82 points.

The euro zone blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index rose 1.5 percent to 2,702.05 points.

RATE CUT TALK

The indexes extended gains in the afternoon as dovish comments by the European Central Bank's Vice President, Vitor Constancio, fuelled trader talk of an interest rate cut next week to stimulate the economy after weak German data earlier on Wednesday.

"A rate cut is on the cards," said Ronnie Chopra, head of strategy at Tradenext, reacting to Constancio's comments.

An interest rate cut is seen as benefitting European exporters by making their goods cheaper for foreign buyers. A Thomson Reuters index of German industrial conglomerates, which have a strong international exposure, rose 1.7 percent .

Other traders said the bank could stimulate lending, and hence economic activity, by setting negative deposit rates.

The Euro STOXX 50 has been swinging in a 5 percent range this month as mixed economic reports were countered by central bank stimulus expectations and some stronger-than-expected earnings.

"We feel the pull backs in equity markets are likely to be frequent and ongoing but shallow and short lived," said Octopus' Wallin, adding each 5 percent pullback provided a buy opportunity.

"In Europe, we simply feel there is more risk and so are more wary, hence (we have a) slight underweight. However, ... the ECB continue to provide the support."

But Wallin cautioned the market was already fully pricing a rate cut next week, meaning failure to act could result in a new dip.

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