European shares helped by ECB vow to keep rates low
* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.5 pct, hits 1-1/2 wk high
* Telecom Italia surges on renewed M&A speculation
* Investors snap up put options as Syria remains a concern
By Toni Vorobyova
LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - European stocks climbed to 1-1/2 week highs on Thursday, supported by the European Central Bank's warning it would take action to reduce market interest rates if they detracted from its efforts to support an economic recovery.
Some investors had been concerned that signs of economic improvement would dent the ECB's commitment to accommodative monetary policy, but president Mario Draghi said the outlook for rates had not changed since July and that, despite improvements, risks to the economy remained to the downside.
The bank's statement after its September meeting said it was ready to cut interest rates or pump more money into the euro zone economy if necessary to bring down money market rates it says have been higher than warranted.
Low interest rates make equities look attractive relative to bonds, while reducing the borrowing costs for companies themselves and stimulating domestic demand by encouraging consumers and businesses to spend rather than save.
"It's good that he reaffirmed that rates will stay low for a long time," said Vincent Guenzi, chief strategist at Cholet Dupont.
The FTSEurofirst 300 was up 0.5 percent at 1,220.67 points at 1353 GMT. Banks - arguably the most direct beneficiaries of ECB stimulus - added the biggest sector boost
Telecoms were another top gainer, with Telecom Italia surging 8.9 percent on renewed deal speculation against a backdrop of rising merger and activity in Europe.
Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris, AT&T and America Movil have made contact with the core investors in the Italian firm investors who want to sell their shares, a source close to the situation said.
Gains on the broader market, however, were capped by ongoing concerns over Syria, with talks on how to deal with the civil war there set to dominate the G20 meeting of the world's major nations.
Activity in September put options on EuroSTOXX 50 - which give the right to sell the index and are thus used to position for market weakness - on the Eurex exchange was twice as high as for call options.
Adding to investor caution were expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will start to scale back its asset purchases stimulus programme this month - for which jobs numbers on Friday may prove an important sign.
"I am a little cautious in the short term because of things such as Syria, Fed tapering and so on, but I am not really frightened and I think the market can go higher before the end of the year," said Guenzi at Cholet Dupont.
Tighter U.S. policy could also prove beneficial to European equities, including through currency impact, some say.
"If the dollar were to gain on expectations of rising rates, a comparatively weaker euro could boost exports," Andrew Goldberg, global markets strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management said in a note, also highlighting attractive valuations and a recovering economy as reasons to invest.
- Housing, jobs data weaken, but overall economic picture still upbeat
- U.S. diplomats, but not prosecutors, seek to quell India dispute |
- Target cyber breach hits 40 million payment cards at holiday peak |
- Last-minute Obamacare exemption for those with canceled plans
- New York Mayor-elect's reputation for lateness parodied on Twitter