European shares extend rally, buoyed by Spain

Reuters

* FTSEurofirst 300, Euro STOXX 50 rise * Spain gets boost from Moody's * German business morale rises in February, Ifo says * Volkswagen, HSBC cap gains By Joshua Franklin LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Demand for Spanish equities helped European shares to extend their rally on Monday to six-year highs, but worse-than-expected results from HSBC and a disappointing outlook from Volkswagen capped the gains.

Spanish stocks rose 0.9 percent after Moody's raised Spain's sovereign debt rating one notch to Baa2 with a "positive" outlook. Sentiment was also lifted by data that showed German business morale rose in February to its highest level since July 2011.

European stocks have risen sharply over the past 2 1/2 weeks, with the CAC-40 hitting a 5 1/2-year high on Friday, boosted by hopes the region's economic growth and corporate profits will recover this year.

"The outlook for corporate earnings, helped first by exports and now by a recovery in domestic demand, is improving," said Ann Steele, European equity fund manager at Threadneedle Investments. "Consumer confidence on the continent is on the up, and countries that have been most prepared to undergo difficult reform are reaping benefits in terms of GDP growth." At 1549 GMT, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was up 0.3 percent at 1,347.70 points, which would be the highest closing price in almost six years. The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index was up 0.5 percent at 3,146.36 points.

British mobile operator Vodafone rose 3 percent, helping the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares to just short of the six-year highs it hit in January. Vodafone's shares have gained on the prospect of one of the largest capital returns in corporate history, after it sells its stake in U.S. mobile-phone company Verizon Wireless.

Slowing the rally, shares in HSBC fell 3.5 percent. Europe's largest bank posted results that fell short of expectations and warned of more volatility in emerging markets.

The drop was even sharper for Volkswagen, Germany's biggest blue-chip by market value. VW sank 7.4 percent after it issued a disappointing 2014 outlook and announced plans to buy out minority shareholders of Scania, sending shares of the truck maker up 32 percent.

Worries brewing over credit restrictions on China's property sector also kept investors on edge. Chinese shares fell on Monday, knocked by news reports saying Chinese banks had begun tightening property loans.

Mining shares, which have a big exposure to resource-hungry China, retreated, with Rio Tinto down 1.8 percent and Anglo American down 2.1 percent.

Around Europe, UK's FTSE 100 index was down 0.1 percent, lagging continental indexes. Germany's DAX gained 0.2 percent and France's CAC 40 rose 0.5 percent.

"The prospect of a pick-up in growth in the euro zone has been one of the big catalysts for the market in the past few weeks," FXCM analyst Vincent Ganne said. "With a lot of data coming out this week, including Friday's inflation figures, fund managers' risk appetite will be tested. We need more positive news, otherwise investors will start having doubts." Europe bourses in 2014:Asset performance in 2014:Today's European research round-up

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