European shares hold steady near 5-1/2-year highs

Tue Jan 7, 2014 4:03am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 flat

* Scandinavia provides most top movers after holiday

* Volvo surges in delayed reaction to U.S. data

* Spanish stocks outperform; hopes of Panama deal for Sacyr

By Alistair Smout

LONDON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - European stocks held steady near five and a half year highs on Tuesday, with Scandinavia providing many of the top gainers after much of the region was shut on Monday for a market holiday.

Stockholm-listed truckmaker Volvo was up 4 percent, with the exchange open for the first time since data showed that orders for heavy trucks in North America rose 50 percent in December compared to November.

"Yesterday you had much of Scandinavia closed, so today is the first day when everything is open and back to normal," Nick Xanders, who heads up equity research at BTIG said.

But moves could be muted ahead of the beginning of the U.S. earnings season and U.S. jobs data later in the week, he added.

The top riser in Europe was Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk, which gained 4.1 percent after selling 49 percent of Dansk Supermarked, Denmark's largest retailer.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was flat at 1,309.03 at 0831 GMT, 0.6 percent off of its highest point since mid-2008, touched briefly on the first trading day of the year.

German chemicals group BASF benefited from an upgrade by UBS, which hiked its target price on the stock by 20 percent and its rating to "buy" from "neutral". It was up 2.8 percent, contributing the most points to the FTSEurofirst 300 .

"We argue ...that BASF should resume a trend of rerating vis-à-vis other large cap chemical household names," analysts at UBS said in a note.

Broker comment also accounted for many of the day's top fallers, with fellow chemical firm Solvay down 2.7 percent and Hugo Boss down 2.3 percent after downgrades from JP Morgan and Societe Generale respectively.

Spanish blue chips gained 0.2 percent, slightly outperforming for the second day running, receiving a boost from Sacyr, which gained 4.5 percent after the Panama Canal authority proposed an end to a dispute with a Spanish-led consortium led by the construction firm.