June 20, 2014 / 3:11 PM / 3 years ago

FTSEurofirst hits 6 1/2-yr high as Shire surges on takeover offer

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct, hits new 6-1/2-yr high

* Pan-European index heads for 10th straight week of gains

* Shire surges about 20 pct on takeover approach

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, June 20 (Reuters) - The FTSEurofirst 300 index climbed to a 6 1/2-year high on Friday and headed for its 10th straight week of gains, as shares of the drugmaker Shire surged after it got a takeover offer.

Shire rose almost 20 percent to 44.66 pounds after AbbVie confirmed it had made an offer to acquire it. Shire’s board rejected the offer, saying it fundamentally undervalued the company and its prospects.

AbbVie said its final offer was worth 46.26 pounds a share, adding that talks with Shire have ended. Shire has been seen as a prime takeover target for U.S. drugmakers, thanks to a mid-sized market value and its tax base in Ireland, where effective corporate tax rates are among the lowest in the world.

“We have had a dearth in M&A activity in the last few years but it does appear to be picking up as business confidence has improved. This is supportive for the market,” Robert Parkes, equity strategist at HSBC, said.

“Investors’ attention will start to shift from macroeconomic data to the second-quarter earnings numbers. We are relatively optimistic on the outlook for European earnings and expect them to grow by 12 percent this year and the next.”

According to Thomson Reuters data, 44 percent companies in the STOXX Europe 600 index reported earnings above analyst estimates in the first quarter. On average, 48 percent of companies beat analyst estimates in a typical quarter.

Shire added the most points to the FTSEurofirst 300 index , which had risen 0.14 percent to 1,397.53 points at 1456 GMT. The index reached a 6 1/2-year high earlier in the session. It has gained more than 6 percent so far this year.

The European healthcare index rose 1.2 percent, making it the best-performing sector in Europe.

“M&A is going to be a big theme, especially in the pharma sector, in the second part of the year. A lot of companies have accumulated a lot of cash and are looking for interesting deals,” said Philippe Gijsels, the head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels.

“The market has paused after a good week as some investors have taken profits, but we are in a bull market,” Gijsels said. “It’s a good environment for equities as economic outlook is improving and central banks generally have been quite supportive.”

On the downside, Norway’s Telenor fell 2 percent after the country’s trade minister said the government would ask parliament for the right to cut its stake in the telecom company and industrial group Kongsberg Gruppen.

France’s state-controlled utility EDF fell 1.6 percent, down for a second day, as analysts at UBS and Natixis cut their target price after the government decided to scrap a planned increase in electricity prices.

“The 2013 re-rating of EDF was to a large extent driven by a change in investor perception, because the regulatory environment seemed to become more reliable and predictable,” UBS analysts wrote in a note. “Therefore, the cancellation of the already agreed tariff hike could lead to an increased risk perception on lower regulatory visibility.”

Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v

Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v

Today’s European research round-up (Reporting by Francesco Canepa; Editing by Larry King)

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