Banks lead European shares to new highs in subdued trade

Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:52am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.2 pct, Euro STOXX 50 up 0.1 pct

* Credit Agricole lifted by UBS comment

* TeliaSonera falls after firing 4 senior managers

* Experian knocked by Goldman downgrade

By David Brett

LONDON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Banks were the top gainers as November ended in subdued fashion with European stocks inching higher, and some investors bet on a rally to see in the year-end.

French lender Credit Agricole led the charge, advancing 4.3 percent as UBS added the company to its "key call" list, with an increased target price of 10.80 euros.

"(It) is one of the most compelling self-help stories in the European banking sector," UBS wrote in a note. "Depressed valuation reflects continued market concerns about low capital and high leverage at the listed-entity level, in our view. We think these concerns are overplayed."

Volume on the stock was nearly three times its full-day average for the past three months by 1519 GMT, against thin trade on the broader FTSEurofirst 300 at just a quarter of its average, with many investors sidelined around the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.

Telecom Italia spiked 4.5 percent higher in late afternoon trade after an activist shareholder campaign to replace the firm's board had little backing from foreign shareholders, according to early voting data seen by Reuters.

More broadly, telecoms were among the laggards with Sweden's TeliaSonera leading the fallers, down 2.3 percent after four senior employees were fired following an investigation into the way it had conducted business in the Eurasia region.

Credit data company Experian was adversely affected by broker comment, falling 2 percent with traders attributing its decline to a downgrade on the stock from Goldman Sachs, which cut its rating on Experian to "sell" from "neutral" on valuation grounds.

"We think there is a risk Experian shares derate from all-time high multiples as organic growth slows and returns fall," Goldman said, adding it sees 15 percent potential downside.

RALLY'S TOO TIGHT TO MENTION

The FTSEurofirst 300 was up 0.2 percent at 1,307.14 points, having posted its highest closing level in five years the previous day. The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 rose 0.1 percent, to 3,096.12 points.

The FTSEurofirst 300 was on track for its third straight month of gains. European stocks have posted a sharp rise since late June, with the Euro STOXX 50 jumping nearly 25 percent on global central bank stimulus and as investors have moved out of safe bonds and into higher-yielding assets, such as stocks.

"The current market bias favours equity markets," Ishaq Siddiqi, market strategist at ETX Capital, said.

"It looks like we can expect this pattern to continue in to year-end and in to the first quarter of 2014 until the market starts to get nervous about the actual start of any Fed Tapering."

In a sign of optimism, the Euro STOXX 50 Volatility Index which reflects options pricing and demand to protect against falls in the underlying cash market index, while up on Friday, is trading around low levels not seen since early 2007.

Valerie Gastaldy, head of technical analysis firm Day By Day, targeted 3,170 on the Euro STOXX 50 for December or the first days of January, seeing scope for any near-term downward movement to be limited to 3,060.

The market showed little reaction to an acceleration in euro zone consumer inflation to 0.9 percent in November, up from 0.7 percent in October and ahead of market expectations for 0.8 percent, easing pressure on the European Central Bank to add more stimulus.

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