Travel and leisure stocks lend support to European shares

Tue May 27, 2014 4:48am EDT

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

* IHG, Accor lead gainers

* FTSE outperforms after holiday

By Alistair Smout

EDINBURGH, May 27 (Reuters) - Gains in the travel and leisure sector helped support European shares near multi-year highs on Tuesday, as chatter about mergers and acquisitions focused on several hotel firms.

Intercontinental Hotel Group jumped 5.2 percent, the top performer on the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300, after British media reported interest from an unidentified bidder in the United States.

French peer Accor Europe's largest hotel group, gained 2.2 percent after it said on Tuesday it had agreed to buy the assets of 97 hotels for about 900 million euros, in a move the company said would boost earnings.

In all, the STOXX Europe 600 Travel and Leisure sector rose 1.6 percent, the biggest sectoral riser, to hit its highest level since 2007.

"If you've got confidence in hotels you've got confidence in the consumer," said Charles Stanley analyst Jeremy Batstone-Carr. "Strength in consumer-facing sectors reflects a belief that pressure is easing on disposable incomes," he added, while noting that incomes in many economies remain squeezed.

The reopening of British markets after a public holiday helped support stocks across the continent. The FTSEurofirst 300 was flat at 1,377.75 at 0816 GMT, but the euro zone Euro Stoxx 50 dipped 0.1 percent.

On Monday, Germany's DAX hit a record high and the euro zone Euro STOXX 50 touched a new 5-1/2 year peak as strong showings by pro-European forces in Germany and Italy helped balance Eurosceptic gains in France, Britain and Greece.

Although the FTSE 100 was up 0.2 percent on Tuesday, it has lagged euro zone blue chips in 2014, up just 1.2 percent compared to a 4 percent gain on the Euro STOXX 50. Some traders attribute this to the potential for intervention from the 18-country euro zone's central bank.

ECB chief Mario Draghi said on Monday the European Central Bank must be "particularly watchful" for any negative price spiral in the euro zone, reiterating his readiness to act to support prices.

"Draghi signalled yesterday a readiness to act on low inflation, which could be warming us up for June intervention and helped risk appetite," said Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets.

Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v

Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v

Today's European research round-up (Editing by Catherine Evans)

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