April 24, 2013 / 11:06 AM / in 5 years

European shares supported by ECB rate cut hopes

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 percent

* German Ifo below expectations, fuels rate cut hopes

* Standard Life surges on asset inflows

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Wednesday, extending the previous session’s hefty gains after a weak German Ifo survey added to expectations that the European Central Bank could cut interest rates next week.

The FTSEurofirst 300 was up 0.1 percent at 1,184.33 by 1045 GMT, having hit a high of 1,188.56 shortly after the German data.

The index had jumped 2.4 percent on Tuesday - its biggest gain since August 2012 - after other German data fuelled hopes of an ECB rate cut.

Loose monetary policy has been a key driver for stocks this year, with the FTSEurofirst 300 having reached 2008 highs mid-March. It has since tailed off, trading about 2 percent shy of the 2013 peak, but strategists see scope for it to bounce back.

“This is something that we have to get used to - that the liquidity backdrop is dominating growth concerns,” said Ian Richards, head of equity strategy at Exane BNP Paribas.

“It’s quite clearly the dominant driver of share prices today - and yesterday - and potentially for the next quarter,” he said, deeming it likely that European equities will advance beyond the year highs.

Germany’s Ifo survey fell for a second consecutive month in April, signalling that Europe’s largest economy is struggling to pull away from a contraction at the end of last year due to weakness in both its euro zone and Chinese export markets.

The ECB meets next week, and there is growing speculation that a slew of weak economic data and subdued inflation will persuade it to cut rates.

Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG Index, meanwhile, said that although people are hopeful of a rate cut, they “are thinking... it’s not really going to kick-start the European economy in any meaningful way”.

ING, which also noted that a rate cut would not transform the economy, highlighted that it “and more non-standard measures” would weaken the euro exchange rate, which could prove helpful to German exporters.

Good examples include engineering conglomerate Siemens and chipmaker Infineon.

Earnings newsflow also supported the market on Wednesday. British insurer Standard Life led gainers, up 6.8 percent, as it saw the net flow of new money it administers more than double in the first quarter from a year earlier.

Of the 14 percent of STOXX Europe 600 companies that have reported first-quarter results so far, about 51 percent have met or beaten analysts’ forecasts, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine Data.

The earnings season in the United States has got off to a stronger start, with 74 percent of S&P 500 companies meeting or beating expectations so far.

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