European shares scale fresh five-year peaks, led by BT

Fri May 10, 2013 4:10am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.6 pct, hits fresh 5-yr highs

* ArcelorMittal, BT, Generali results beat expectations

* Yen weakness seen hurting some exporters

By Toni Vorobyova

LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) - European equities punched fresh five-year highs on Friday, continuing to draw support from central bank stimulus, and with steelmaker ArcelorMittal and telecoms group BT jumping on strong earnings.

Investors were looking to a meeting of Group of Seven finance chiefs for reaffirmation of policymakers' commitment to economic stimulus - the key driver of equities' 11-month long rally - and for clues on possible further measures from central banks.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is also expected to leave the door open to further bond purchases in a speech at 1330 GMT, after conflicting comments about the effectiveness of the bond-buying programme from some Fed officials this week.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index was up 0.6 percent at 1,236.48 points by 0742 GMT, testing levels not seen since June 2008 and getting a boost from fresh money as investors in several European countries returned after a public holiday.

"The general direction is for further more accommodative policy and that should drive equities further. We are adding to positions selectively in Germany and Italy," said James Butterfill, equity strategist at Coutts.

Underscoring investor optimism, Lipper data showed that U.S.-based funds invested some $213 million of new money in European equities in the week to May 8 - the strongest inflows in nearly four months.

Germany's DAX - which this week became the first major European index to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. S&P 500 in scaling record highs - added 0.7 percent to new peaks.

Italy's FTSE MIB rose 1.4 percent, supported by forecast-beating results from insurer Generali, whose shares were up 2.1 percent.

Strong earnings reports also boosted the world's largest steel maker ArcelorMittal, which jumped 6 percent, and telecoms group BT, which surged 8.7 percent.

The results lifted what has so far been a mixed first-quarter earnings season in Europe, with 55 percent of the STOXX Europe 600 that have already reported missing forecasts, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.

Industrials have been one of the worst performers, with a miss rate of 64 percent, and analysts said the sector could face fresh pressure from a depreciating yen, which continued to weaken on Friday after breaking the psychologically important level of 100 per dollar.

"The yen weakness is a headwind for German exporters as they might lose competitiveness. We also see some margin pressure in Germany with rising wages which could hurt these companies," said Emmanuel Cau, strategist at JP Morgan.