European stocks gain, propped up by media firms

(Reuters) - European stocks rose on Thursday, boosted by media firms enjoying their best day in nearly five months on an earnings result and a potential deal - but the main regional index was on track to post its first monthly decline of 2019.

The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Staff

That STOXX 600 gained 0.4% on the day, with media firms’ shares rising 1.8%. Trading volumes were under 80% their 90-day average due to market holidays in countries including Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden.

Germany’s DAX rose 0.5%, while Axel Springer jumped 22.2% on its best day since listing. The publisher’s main owners are in talks with private equity firm KKR to possibly take the company private.

“The European market has continued to lag behind its U.S. peers, this combined with low financing costs and idiosyncratic stock moves sets a ripe backdrop for capital market transactions,” said Edward Park, deputy chief investment officer at Brooks Macdonald.

“The announcement that KKR are trying to take Axel Springer private is a prime example of this,” said Park, pointing to Axel Springer having shed about a quarter of its market capitalization in the last year on rising concerns about its earnings and the ability of media companies to compete with Alphabet Inc’s Google in the online advertising space.

Britain’s Daily Mail and General Trust was another gainer among media firms, rising 9.6% as first-half adjusted pre-tax profit rose more than expected. It also reaffirmed its full-year forecasts.

Tariff-sensitive stocks of auto-makers and their suppliers fell 0.3%. A senior Chinese diplomat ramped up the rhetoric against the United States, saying provoking trade disputes is “naked economic terrorism”.

European and U.S. firms’ earnings growth will continue to be anemic for much of this year, estimates accessed from Refinitiv show, with an end to the bruising U.S.-China trade war not in sight. The STOXX 600 is down about 4.9% in the month to date, and now set for its first monthly decline of 2019.

Utilities stocks slid 0.9% on Thursday, with London-listed National Grid falling 4.6%. Credit Suisse cut its price target on the stock, which was trading ex-dividend.

Spanish stocks rose 0.9%, with Cellnex Telecom leading the index with a 4.8% gain after Goldman Sachs boosted its rating on the stock and added it to its conviction list.

The chief executive of Europe’s biggest phone towers group said it expects more deals to take shape in 2019-2020 after its $3-billion splurge on assets owned by French tycoon Xavier Niel.

Passports and banknotes maker De La Rue Plc slumped 34% on a profit warning and announcing its chief executive will leave the firm.

“De La Rue is starting to feel like an analogue stock in a digital age...After all, the company prints bank notes in an increasingly cashless world,” said AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru and Helen Reid in London, Additional reporting by Sangameswaran S, Graphic by Helen Reid;Editing by Andrew Heavens