European shares hit 5-1/2 year highs on better growth outlook

Wed Jan 15, 2014 4:11am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.5 pct, highest since 2008

* World Bank lifts growth outlook for 1st time in 3 years

* Burberry surges after good retail sales

By Alistair Smout

LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Wednesday to fresh 5-1/2 year highs, led by stocks sensitive to the global economic outlook after the World Bank raised its growth forecast for the first time in three years.

So-called "cyclical" stocks such as financials, energy and consumer discretionary stocks combined to add 5 points to the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300, accounting for the majority of the index's advance to 1,332.96 points - a gain of 0.5 percent.

The index rose to levels not seen since the middle of 2008, and Germany's DAX hit new all-time highs.

The gains came after the World Bank said the global economy had come to a "turning point," with fiscal austerity and policy uncertainty no longer weighing as heavily on most richer economies. It predicted total global growth of 3.2 percent in 2014.

Concerns over growth, especially in the United States, had dragged on equities following a sharp miss in U.S. jobs data late last week.

But stocks pared sharp losses on Tuesday, helped by signs of life in the U.S. economy as forecast-beating December retail sales data showed it gathering steam at the end of last year and poised for stronger growth in 2014.

"We've had a bit of consolidation, but after Wall Street's rally yesterday, and with global growth looking alright, the outlook for equities looks quite good," said Zeg Choudhry, head of trading at Northland Capital.

"The focus will be on earnings from now, and people expect them to be OK as expectations are quite low."

Earnings fuelled Europe's top gainer. Burberry posted a 14 percent rise in underlying retail revenue in the Christmas quarter and saw its stock trade 6.5 percent higher.

The update was seen as boding well for the consumer discretionary sector at large, after a festive trading period which has proved mixed for high street retailers and supermarkets.

"It seems that those more expensive ticket items will still be sold over what has been a mixed Christmas trading period ... Luxury's advantage versus staples still holds," said Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets.

Banks were also firmer after the European Central Bank said lenders will not be required in upcoming stress tests to adjust sovereign debt portfolios they hold to maturity to reflect current market values.

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