Brexit optimism puts European stocks within spitting distance of record high

LONDON (Reuters) - European stocks came close to a record high on Friday as further confirmation of a Jan. 31 Brexit date saw investors buying into markets that have been roiled by uncertainty for more than three years.

The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Staff

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won approval for his Brexit deal in parliament on Friday, further convincing markets that an overwhelming Conservative majority will likely result in a smooth exit from the European Union.

Positive headlines on Brexit, along with a thaw in Sino-U.S. trade tensions, have primed the STOXX 600 for its best fourth quarter since 2011. Analysts also expect a relatively stronger 2020 on the back of recovering economic growth in the bloc.

“The reason for the optimism is that we know through Christine Lagarde that the monetary policy in the EU will continue to do the heavy lifting, although its effects have diminished,” said Ephie Coumanakos, managing partner of Concord Financial Group.

“Overall, 2020 could be a good year for Europe. Not an accelerating year - growth will still remain fairly subdued - (but) we’re starting to see some improvement. We hope to see a little more inflation. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

The pan-European STOXX 600 .STOXX rose 0.7% on Friday, coming just a few points off a record peak touched earlier in the week.

Milan-listed shares .FTMIB outperformed regional peers for the day, touching their highest in more than 1-1/2 years on gains in Italy's biggest utility, Enel ENEI.MI. Its shares rose 1% after Moody's improved its outlook on the Latin American unit Enel Americas ENELAM.SN to positive.

Payments group Nexi NEXII.MI gained 2.4% after Intesa SanPaolo ISP.MI on Thursday said it was selling its retailers' payment business to Nexi in a 1 billion-euro ($1.1 billion) deal.

France's CAC .FCHI touched its highest level since July 2007, rising nearly 0.7%. Cosmetics maker L'Oreal SA OREP.PA was the best performer on the index.

London's exporter-heavy FTSE 100 .FTSE was flat as the pound strengthened. Domestically focused stocks .FTMC recovered from losses earlier in the day to trade sideways. [GBP/]

The final reading on Britain’s third quarter growth showed the economy grew a little faster than first estimated and the country’s current account deficit shrank to its smallest since 2012.

Among individual stocks, the London-listed shares of travel firm Carnival Corp CCL.L were the best performers on the STOXX 600 after its quarterly revenue beat expectations.

NMC Health NMC.L was the worst performer on the STOXX 600, falling for a fourth straight session after short seller Muddy Waters took aim at the stock earlier in the week.

Reporting by Ambar Warrick, Medha Singh and Sruthi Shankar; editing by Larry King and Nick Macfie