European shares steady, Iliad jumps on consolidation hopes

Thu Jun 12, 2014 7:24am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 index rises 0.1 percent

* Iliad, Bouygues up on sector consolidation hopes

* Miners slip on global growth concerns

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, June 12 (Reuters) - European shares steadied near recent multi-year highs by midday on Thursday as a rally in some telecom stocks prompted by merger hopes in the sector was offset by global growth concerns which weighed on the mining sector.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.1 percent at 1,393.13 points by 1055 GMT, hovering just below this week's 6-1/2-year high.

However, Iliad rose 6.3 percent, the biggest gainer on the FTSEurofirst 300, and Bouygues advanced 4 percent on expectations of further consolidation in France's telecom sector.

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 bring an end to the "destructive spiral" of falling prices.

"You have seen signs of consolidation and we have got some more this morning. 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.

"The trend could extend beyond telecoms as a lot of European corporates are pretty cashed up and they could be looking for opportunities to buy other companies."

However, gains were capped by a sharp decline in mining shares after some concerns about global economic forecasts and a decline in copper prices 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 BHP Billiton fell 1.5 to 3.3 percent as investors fretted about demand especially in top consumer China.

Investors also awaited U.S. jobless claims and retail sales data, both due at 1230 GMT, for hints about the market's near-term direction.

Analysts advised caution in chasing the market higher after major stock indexes touched multi-year highs.

"After such a good rally, it's not the time to buy right now, it's better just to sit on your gains. The market is quite vulnerable to negative news at the moment," Altedia Investment Consulting analyst Philippe de Vandiere said.

"In the longer term however, earnings in Europe will start to recover in the next few months, which should lift stocks going forward."

Among individual movers, Alstom rose 0.4 percent after Hitachi said it would join the bidders for the French group's energy business countering an offer from General Electric.

BNP Paribas was also in the spotlight, gaining 0.5 percent after the bank, which is wrestling with U.S. authorities over a potential $10 billion fine, said its chief operating officer will step down at the end of the month.

Stock markets in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Lisbon opened 30 minutes late on Thursday due to a technical glitch at market operator Euronext.

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 Ruth Pitchford)