European shares hit 2-mth high on Ukraine ceasefire speculation

Wed Sep 3, 2014 6:51am EDT

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.9 pct, Euro STOXX 50 up 1.3 pct

* Investors bet on eastern Ukraine ceasefire after Russia talks

* ECB stimulus bets further support market

* Hermes falls on LVMH deal

* Hugo Boss drops after share placement

By Francesco Canepa

LONDON, Sept 3 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Wednesday, with a key index hitting a two-month high, on speculation about a possible ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and fresh monetary stimulus from the European Central Bank.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko had agreed on steps towards peace in eastern Ukraine, even though a ceasefire had not been agreed between Moscow and Kiev because Russia is not a party to the conflict.

Trading was nervy, however, as authorities seemed to send mixed messages, with Poroshenko's press office earlier saying both presidents had agreed on a "permanent ceasefire".

At 1021 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.9 percent at 1,388.04 points, having earlier hit its highest level since July 7 at 1,391.56 points.

The euro zone blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 was up 1.3 percent at 3,221.40 points.

Shares in Russia-exposed companies were among top gainers.

Austrian lender Raiffeisen Bank International, which relies heavily on Russia for profits, and Danish brewer Carlsberg, which has a large exposure to the country through its Baltika brand, rose 5.4 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.

Sentiment on the broader market was also underpinned by speculation that the ECB, due to hold a policy meeting tomorrow, might be compelled to launch an asset-purchase programme, or quantitative easing (QE), to shore up inflation in the euro zone after a further batch of weak economic data.

Markit's Composite Purchasing Managers' Index showed euro zone business grew at the slowest rate this year in August as escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine subdued spending and investment.

"(It's the) extension of the (ECB) trade, massaged by further weak PMI numbers and the intensity of the QE call, and even more so the (potential) Putin-organised ceasefire in Ukraine," Andy Ash, head of sales at Monument Securities, said.

Dovish comments by ECB President Mario Draghi in late August sparked market bets on upcoming stimulus. However, ECB sources told Reuters last week that new action this Thursday was unlikely but not impossible, and that the barrier to QE was still "very high".

"We're expecting a strong verbal commitment from Draghi on Thursday," said Romain Boscher, global head of equities management at Amundi, which has 821 billion euros ($1.08 trillion) under management.

"The ECB still has plenty of ammunition left, and it will certainly use it when needed. The prospect of further action from the central bank remains very supportive for risky assets such as equities."

Bucking the trend was French luxury handbag maker Hermes , which tumbled 5.7 percent in huge volumes after it struck a deal with bigger rival LVMH that resolves their dispute over LVMH's 23.2 percent stake in the maker of Birkin and Kelly handbags.

German retailer Hugo Boss dropped by 5.2 percent after an investment company controlled by private equity investor Permira placed an 11 percent stake of the company's total capital.

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 Dominic Evans)