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Banks lead European stocks higher

Banks lead European stocks higher
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First Published: Tue, May 19 2009. 03 53 PM IST
Updated: Tue, May 19 2009. 03 53 PM IST
Paris: European stocks rose by mid morning on Tuesday, gaining ground for the fourth straight session, propelled by surging banking stocks such as Deutsche Bank, while investors braced for US housing data.
Better-than-expected data from Germany’s ZEW survey also helped boost sentiment. The ZEW economic sentiment index rose to 31.1 in May from 13.0 in April.
Shares in Bank of Ireland leapt 27% after the lender said it would buy back debt in a boost for its capital position.
Heavyweight mining shares were also on the rise, enjoying sharp gains in metal prices. Anglo American gained 6.2% and Xstrata rose 6.6%.
At 0840 GMT (02:10pm), the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 1.6% at 873.67 points.
The index has surged 35% since reaching a lifetime low in early March, as fears over a global economic depression receded, but is still down 47% from a multi-year high touched in mid-2007.
Arthur van Slooten, European equity strategist at Societe Generale, said investors were keen on adding more risk into portfolios, reassured by signs of improvement in the credit market. “This rally has been a correction of the equity risk premium, and obviously not based on an improvement on the earnings side,” he said.
Banks gained ground again, with HSBC up 3.8%, BNP Paribas up 5.3% and Deutsche Bank up 6.6%. The DJ STOXX banking index, which was up 3.7% on Tuesday, has shot up 114% since early March.
UK lenders were particularly in focus after a source said UK Financial Investments (UKFI), which manages Britain’s stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, had been sounding out investors who may be interested in buying some of its holdings.
According to the source, Britain has held talks with investors to gauge their interest in buying its stakes in the part-nationalized lenders, and could begin selling its holdings within a year.
Royal Bank of Scotland rose 5.6% and Lloyds added 4.5%.
Analysts are pointing out that an improvement in the credit market over the past few weeks has been helping the recovery in equity prices.
European credit spreads, reflected in indexes such as the investment-grade Markit iTraxx Europe index as well as the Markit iTraxx Crossover index, have sharply tightened since March.
“The Libor (London interbank offered rate) has come down a lot, and that is excellent news. It means the credit crisis is being overcome. In that respect, the equity rally we have seen since March was justified,” said van Slooten.
A Reuters poll showed on Monday that more than half of euro zone money market dealers think the worst of a liquidity crisis dating back to 2007 is over, although some large banks still think it has further to run.
Around Europe, the UK’s FTSE 100 index was up 1.1%, Germany’s DAX index was up 2% and France’s CAC 40 was up 1%.
Bucking the trend, British retailer Marks & Spencer Group Plc dropped 7.7% after it posted an expected 40% slide in full-year profit and cut its final dividend by a third to conserve cash, just 12 months after increasing it.
Other consumer-related stocks were on the downside. Tesco was down 1.1% and Unilever was down 2.2%.
On the macro front, investors were bracing for key US housing starts and build permits, due at 1230 GMT (06:00pm), looking for insight on the health of the battered housing sector.
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First Published: Tue, May 19 2009. 03 53 PM IST
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