Robust earnings help European shares extend rally ahead of ECB

Thu Mar 5, 2015 6:43am EST

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.4 pct, hovers below 7-year high

* ECB to detail quantitative easing programme

* European earnings up 22 pct, best season since mid-2011

By Francesco Canepa and Blaise Robinson

LONDON/PARIS, March 5 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Thursday, with a batch of robust company results from firms including supermarket Carrefour and fund manager Schroders boosting sentiment.

Investors also awaited the European Central bank meeting at which it is set to give further details on its massive bond-buying programme.

Shares in Carrefour rose 2.4 percent after the world's second-largest retailer said it would boost capital expenditure this year as it seeks to cement a revival of its European hypermarkets.

British fund manager Schroders was up 2.2 percent after reporting a better-than-expected jump in its 2014 pretax profit as net inflows more than tripled to 24.8 billion pounds.

About 80 percent of STOXX Europe 600 companies have reported results so far, posting a 22 percent surge in quarterly profits, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data, making for Europe's best earnings season since mid-2011.

"Corporate results are encouraging," said Joffrey Ouafqa, fund manager at Paris-based Auris Gestion Privee.

"Companies have done a great job in terms of restructuring, and now they have a strong operating leverage. A small rise in revenue is enough to send profits soaring."

At 1113 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.3 percent at 1,563.78 points, hovering not far below a seven-year high posted earlier this week.

The ECB, which starts a quantitative easing, or bond-buying, programme worth more than 1 trillion euros this month, is expected to detail the plan later in the day following its policy meeting.

The bank is also set to keep rates on hold and lift growth forecasts to reflect a string of positive data surprises, but cut inflation projections as it incorporates the full effect of a dramatic oil price fall.

European stocks have rallied strongly since the start of the year, boosted by the prospect of quantitative easing. The FTSEurofirst 300 index is up 14 percent in 2015, outpacing Wall Street, where the S&P 500 is up 1.9 percent over the same period.

Miners bucked the trend on Thursday, with Rio Tinto down 2.3 percent, after China announced an economic growth target for 2015 of around 7 percent and said it would boost government spending, signalling that the lowest rate of expansion for a quarter of a century was the "new normal" for the world's No.2 economy.

Europe bourses in 2015: link.reuters.com/pap87v

Asset performance in 2015: link.reuters.com/gap87v

Today's European research round-up (Additional reporting by Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier; Editing by Jon Boyle)