European shares close higher, led by telecoms

By Brian Gorman

LONDON (BestGrowthStock) – European stocks rose on Friday, led by telecoms and other defensive sectors, but it was not enough to stop an overall loss for the week as investors reacted to data that cast further doubt on the strength of the economic recovery.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares rose 0.6 percent to close at 1,026.25 points, adding to a 0.9 percent rise on Thursday. However, the index fell 0.3 percent over the week, its third straight week of losses.

The European benchmark soared 62 percent, between hitting a lifetime low in March, 2009, and the end of that year. But the rally has stalled on worries about European debt levels and the strength of the economic recovery and the index is down 1.9 percent so far this year.

“It’s a rally after a sell-off, with no conviction behind it,” said Colin McLean, managing director at fund manager SVM in Edinburgh. “There’s been a general trend toward defensives, both here and in the United States.”

Telecoms performed well on Friday, with Vodafone, BT, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom rose between 1.9 and 2.8 percent.

U.S. economic growth was revised down to a sluggish 1.6 percent annual rate in the second quarter, dampened by the largest increase in imports in 26 years, the government said on Friday.

Gross domestic product growth previously was estimated at 2.4 percent and analysts had feared it would be pushed down even more sharply, to 1.4 percent. The economy grew at a 3.7 percent pace in the first three months of the year.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recovery has softened more than had been expected and the Fed was ready to take further steps if needed to spur on the stumbling economy.

“At very best, people might have hoped Bernanke would have said something about quantitative easing and stimulation, and that would have pushed the market up,” SVM’s McLean said.

Defensive sectors tend to outperform when there is a lack of investor confidence. Utilities, also a defensive sector, gained, with Drax Ibderdrola and National Grid up between 2.1 and 2.7 percent.

Across Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC40 ended the day between 0.7 and 0.9 percent higher.

Wall Street was higher around the time European bourses were closing. The Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite were up between 1 and 1.2 percent. The Dow climbed back above 10,000, having been hit earlier in the week by the downbeat housing data.

VOPAK RISES

Among individual stocks, Dutch oil and chemicals storage firm Vopak rose 7.3 percent after reported a 21 percent rise in first-half operating profit, driven by oil product storage, and it raised its outlook for 2010 and beyond.

German internet service provider United Internet rose 7.1 percent, after its earnings beat estimates.

Airbus parent EADS dropped 3.2 percent, trimming this year’s sharp gains, after Les Echos newspaper reported Airbus told its suppliers it would reduce the number of A350 wide-body airplanes produced from 2013 to 2015.

The Euro STOXX 50, the euro zone’s blue chip index, rose 0.9 percent to 2,630.35 points, after falling to as low as 2,579.91 points, below the 23.6 percent Fibonacci retracement of the index’s fall from an April high to a May low, a key support level.

“The market has been overreacting to the flow of sluggish data. The U.S. economic recovery is grinding to a halt but it doesn’t mean it will slip back into recession,” said Francois Chevallier, strategist at Banque Leonardo, in Paris.

“What has been priced in is the gloomiest scenario, but it won’t happen.”

(Additional reporting by Blaise Robinson; Editing by Karen Foster)

European shares close higher, led by telecoms