Banking stocks outperform as European shares end flat

Fri Nov 29, 2013 12:37pm EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 flat, Euro STOXX 50 down 0.2 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) - Banking stocks were among the best-performing shares in Europe on Friday in otherwise subdued trade although some investors were still betting on a year-end rally.

French lender Credit Agricole led the charge, rising 3.2 percent after 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 said 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 more than three times its daily average for the past three months, 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 down 1.7 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 2.8 percent with traders attributing its decline to a downgrade on the stock by Goldman Sachs 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 closed flat at 1,305.07 points, having posted its highest closing level in five years the previous day. The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 fell 0.2 percent, to 3,086.64 points.

The FTSEurofirst 300 rose for a third straight month. European stocks have posted a sharp rise since late June, with the Euro STOXX 50 jumping nearly 25 percent on continued 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 into year-end and into the first quarter of 2014 until the market starts to get nervous about the actual start of any Fed tapering (of its stimulus programme)."

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. It was up from 0.7 percent in October - and ahead of market expectations for 0.8 percent - and will be welcomed by the European Central Bank as it reduces the risk of deflation in the euro zone.

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