European shares end little changed, consolidation hopes boost Iliad

Thu Jun 12, 2014 12:42pm EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 index closes flat

* Iliad, Bouygues up on sector consolidation hopes

* Miners slip on global growth concerns

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, June 12 (Reuters) - European equities closed near recent multi-year highs on Thursday, as merger hopes buoyed some telecom stocks but mining shares fell amid global growth concerns.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares finished flat at 1,392.02 points, just below this week's 6 1/2-year high.

Iliad rose 6.3 percent, the top gainer on the FTSEurofirst index, and Bouygues advanced 5.2 percent on expectations of more consolidation among French telecom companies.

Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said on Thursday the government still wants to reduce the number of mobile telecom operators in France to three from four, to end the "destructive spiral" of falling prices.

"Consolidation is a good thing for the sector as it improves their market power and pricing, which has been a key issue holding back earnings in the sector," Macquarie strategist Daniel McCormack said.

Gains by some shares were offset by a decline in mining shares related to concerns about the global economic outlook. Copper prices have slid towards one-month lows.

The World Bank trimmed its global growth forecast this week, saying a confluence of events - from the Ukraine crisis to unusually cold weather in the United States - dampened economic expansion in the first half of the year.

Miners Anglo American, Rio Tinto and Antofagasta fell from 2.6 to 3.2 percent as investors fretted about demand, especially in top consumer China.

Analysts advised caution for now but stayed positive on the market's longer-term outlook.

"Rock-bottom interest rates are triggering a real change in paradigm for investors who have to completely rethink their asset allocation, and equities are set to benefit from this," said Frederic Biraud, head of B*Capital, a Paris-based brokerage and wealth management firm.

"A lot of investors still have low exposure to stocks, and it's becoming unbearable. Rates are so low that you get next to nothing by investing in fixed-income products, even in the corporate space, while stocks offer much better returns.

"People are warming up to that, but there's still a long way to go in terms of allocation moves."

Among individual movers, UBS fell 1.6 percent following a research report saying the bank might have to pay $8 billion in fines and settlements relating to alleged collusion and price-manipulation in the global currency market.

The report, published on Wednesday by independent research firm Autonomous Research, said foreign exchange settlements could cost banks a total of $35 billion, almost six times more than the total fines paid in the Libor interest rate-rigging scandal.

BNP Paribas was also in the spotlight after the bank, which is wrestling with U.S. authorities over a potential $10 billion fine, said its chief operating officer will step down this month. BNP shares rose 0.2 percent.

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

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

Today's European research round-up (Additional reporting by Blaise Robinson in Paris; Editing by Larry King)