* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct, at 5-1/2 year high
* Spain, Italy, Portugal outperform
* U.S. jobs data, Fed minutes, ECB meeting all due this week
By Toni Vorobyova
LONDON, Jan 8 European shares edged up to fresh
5-1/2 year highs on Wednesday, led by a rally in the region's
periphery, with gains capped by mixed corporate news and
uncertainty ahead of central bank announcements and U.S. data.
The flat overall market was underpinned by continued strong
gains in Spain, Italy and Portugal as investors bet that the
countries hit hardest by the euro zone crisis of recent years
will now be the biggest beneficiaries of an economic recovery.
Spain's IBEX rose 0.9 percent to hit a fresh 2-1/2 year peak
, while Italy's FTSE MIB gained 0.8 percent and
Portugal's benchmark index rallied 1.5 percent.
"I think the periphery will generally do better than the
core. This year the euro zone will get better in a whole range
of ways - it's not just growth getting better, but credit
conditions and confidence will be getting better, austerity will
be fading," said Daniel McCormack, strategist at Macquarie.
"...You want to be starting at the lowest point so the
weaker areas will do better in terms of degree of change than
Spanish and Italian stocks including Banco Popular
and Intesa Sanpaolo were among the top gainers on the
pan-European FTSEurofirst 300, which was up 0.1 percent at
1,321.34 points at 0845 GMT.
The benchmark rose as high as 1,321.70 points, a level last
seen in June 2008 and slightly beating Tuesday's peak.
But traders said investors were unwilling to place fresh big
in view of a busy calendar including the U.S. private sector job
reports at 1315 GMT, followed by the minutes from the Federal
Reserve's December meeting after the European close.
The rest of the week also brings a European Central Bank
meeting on Thursday and U.S. non-farm payrolls on Friday.
"Both events should be market supportive in that we will get
a dovish press conference and we should get a solid non-farm
payrolls number," said McCormack at Macquarie.
"(But) it's a big week for data and that is going to create
some nervousness in the market ahead of that."
Corporate newsflow offered a mixed picture for investors
waiting to decide whether European equities are a good bet for
2014 and - if so - which bits of the market to focus on.
Air France-KLM rose 5.5 percent after posting a
rise in passenger traffic in December.
Dutch paints and chemicals firm AkzoNobel fell 1.8
percent after reiterating its 2013 operating income outlook but
raising guidance for 2014 restructuring charges.
"Things could get worse before they get better," Filip De
Pauw, analyst at ING, said in a note, reiterating a 'hold'.
"We believe investors could be slightly disappointed with
the cautious tone of the press release on current trading
conditions and the upward revision of restructuring charges."