U.S. Markets closed

Telcos, banks lift European shares, dollar dips

Traders work at their desks in front of the German share price index, DAX board, at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, February 17, 2017. REUTERS/staff/remote

By Nigel Stephenson

LONDON (Reuters) - European stocks rose on Monday, with gains in telecoms and banks offsetting a big fall in Unilever, while uncertainty over political developments and the timing of a U.S. interest rate hike kept the dollar in check.

U.S. markets were closed for the Presidents Day holiday, and this restricted activity in Europe and Asia.

Unilever (ULVR.L) shares fell nearly 9 percent at one point after U.S. food company Kraft Heinz Co (KHC.O) withdrew on Sunday a proposal for a merger with its larger rival in the face of stiff resistance.

The Anglo-Dutch group's shares were last down 7.4 percent and were the day's biggest fallers.

Despite that slide, the pan-European STOXX 600 index (.STOXX) edged up 0.1 percent to just below a 14-month high touched last week.

A 3 percent gain in Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) helped push the index higher after a Reuters report that Japan's SoftBank (9984.T) is prepared to give up control of Sprint (S.N) to Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile US (TMUS.O) to clinch a merger of the two U.S. wireless carriers.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) was the day's biggest gainer as shareholders welcomed a plan to scrap the proposed sale of its Williams & Glyn unit.

Earlier, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> edged up 0.2 percent and back toward a 19-month peak reached last week.

Japan's Nikkei (.N225) rose 0.1 percent while China's blue-chip CSI 300 index <.CSI300> closed up 1.5 percent, its biggest gain in six months, after media reports on Friday that pension money may begin flowing into the market as soon as this week.

The dollar dipped 0.1 percent against a basket of major currencies (.DXY) after U.S. bond yields fell on Friday.

The euro (EUR=) rose 0.1 percent to $1.0623 while the yen fell 0.2 percent to 113.07 per dollar (JPY=). Sterling (GBP=D4) rose 0.5 percent to $1.2466.

The dollar hit its highest against the basket for more than a month last week after U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said it would be unwise to delay raising interest rates, before pulling back on uncertainty over President Donald Trump's policies, particularly on trade.

Minutes of the Fed's latest policy meeting on Wednesday will be examined for any clues to the timing of the next hike, and Fed officials speak at five events this week.

Cleveland Fed President Loreta Mester said in Singapore on Monday she would be comfortable raising rates if the economy maintained its current performance.


POLITICS

The focus in euro zone debt markets was on politics.

French 10-year government bond yields rose after an opinion poll published on Monday showed far-right candidate Marine Len Pen narrowing her centrist and center-right rivals' lead in the final round of the presidential election in May.

This pushed the gap over benchmark German 10-year yields to 84 basis points, its widest since late 2012. It later pulled back to 72 bps.

Yields on safe-haven two-year German bonds (DE2YT=TWEB) hit a record low, at minus 0.85 percent.

"It all seems to be driven by the move in French bonds after a poll that showed Le Pen's improving fortunes in the second round of voting," Rabobank strategist Lyn Graham-Taylor said.

Among commodities, oil rose, although an increase in the number of U.S. drilling rigs dragged on the price. Brent crude (LCOc1) rose 38 cents a barrel to $56.19.

Copper rose on supply worries after the world's second-biggest copper mine said it could not deliver promised shipment due to export permit problems. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was up 0.7 percent at $6,004 a tonne,

Gold (XAU=) edged up 0.2 percent to $1,237 an ounce.


For Reuters Live Markets blog on European and UK stock markets see reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url=http://emea1.apps.cp.extranet.thomsonreuters.biz/cms/?pageId=livemarkets


(Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney and Dhara Ranasinghe and John Geddie in London; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and John Stonestreet)