* FTSEurofirst 300 rises 0.4 pct
* Alstom, BHP Billiton up on spin-off hopes
* Metso surges as Weir considers bid
* Stimulus chatter in China, U.S. lends support
By Alistair Smout
LONDON, April 1 (Reuters) - European stocks got off to a brisk start in the second quarter, with merger-and-acquisition activity driving gains by industrial and mining stocks.
Alstom rose 4.5 percent on Tuesday, making it the top performer on the FTSEurofirst 300 in early trade. The French turbine and train maker said it would sell its heat exchange unit to Triton, a German private equity group.
Investors also welcomed reports global mining company BHP Billiton was weighing options to simplify its assets, including a possible spin-off of unwanted businesses. Its shares were up 2.1 percent.
Finland’s Metso benefitted from a report that Britain’s Weir Group was interested in buying its fellow engineering company, surging 12 percent to the top of the STOXX Europe 600.
Weir Group fell 2 percent, the biggest decline on the FTSEurofirst 300.
“There’s a lot of confidence within companies, and there’s a lot of cash, and that can only point to one thing, which is increased M&A activity in the coming months,” said Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was up 0.4 percent at 1,338.23 points. Expectations of further economic stimulus by U.S. and Chinese authorities helped to drive the gains.
Weakness in China’s manufacturing has led to speculation of government spending to spur growth, boosting demand for basic resources stocks. They gained 0.9 percent to be the region’s top sectoral riser.
Investors were also reassured by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who said monetary policy would need to remain easy for some time.
Stocks are usually strong at the beginning of a new month, as investors adjust portfolios and position for the month ahead. But Tuesday’s gain looked set to buck a recent losing streak.
The FTSEurofirst 300 has fallen every first trading day of the month since November, after rising on 15 of the previous 18 first trading days.
“With Yellen being dovish, and more positive news out of China overnight, it’s about timing, and we should see decent gains as the day wears on,” McCudden said.
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 Francesco Canepa; Editing by Larry King