European stocks turn lower as ECB says more rate cuts unlikely, banks up

* ECB cuts rates, lifts size of asset purchase programme

* Shares off highs as Draghi says more rate cuts unlikely

* Banks rise sharply led by Banco Popular, UniCredit

* Lagardere slumps after results (Adds details, updates prices)

By Danilo Masoni and Sudip Kar-Gupta

MILAN/LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) - European shares turned lower on Thursday after the European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said more rate cuts were unlikely, but bank shares rose on plans for a new round of cheap funding.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 0.4 percent by 1541 GMT, having earlier risen by as much as 2.6 percent after the ECB surprised investors with rate cuts and an expanstion of its asset purchase programme.

Giuseppe Sersale, fund manager at Anthilia Capital, said Draghi’s remarks that more rate cuts were unlikely caught investors who were heavily selling the euro by surprise, putting pressure on equities.

“However, regardless of the short term, minute by minute market market reaction, we see the stimulus package as very important ... especially the possibility given to banks to tap new long term funding at zero or negative rates,” he added.

Banking sectors stocks also came off earlier highs but were still the leading gainers, up 1.4 percent. Spain’s Banco Popular rose 6.2 percent, topping gainers on the FTSEurofirst, while UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo and BNP Paribas all rose sharply.

Weaker oil prices also weighed on equity markets, sending the oil and gas stocks index down 1.3 percent.

British insurer Aviva rose 2.7 percent after posting higher profits and dividends. Reinsurer Hannover Re climbed 4 percent after it increased its total dividend and its net profit surpassed the billion-euro mark for the first time.

However, Lagardere shares slumped 12 percent after results from the media group underwhelmed investors, while fertiliser group K+S fell 8.7 percent after it warned of a significant drop in operating profit this year.

Today’s European research round-up (Editing by Alison Williams)


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