European shares level off at 27-month high; SAS jumps

* FTSEurofirst 300 little changed at 27-month high

* Novo Nordisk helps drugmakers; weak metals hurt miners

* SAS shares jump, report that Lufthansa plans takeover
* For up-to-the-minute market news, click on [STXNEWS/EU]

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, Dec 23 (BestGrowthStock) – European shares were flat in thin
pre-Christmas trade on Thursday after hitting a 27-month high
for a fourth day, with stronger drugmakers on a jump in Novo
Nordisk shares offsetting miners that tracked weaker metals.

Danish company Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO: ) rose 3.3 percent
after the company overnight announced positive results from
Phase III trials with its new-generation insulin Degludec. The
STOXX 600 European healthcare index (.SXDP: ) rose 0.5 percent.

But miners slipped as key base metals prices eased on profit
taking. The European basic resources index (.SXPP: ) fell 0.8
percent, while Antofagasta (ANTO.L: ) was down 0.6 percent.

At 0919 GMT the FTSEurofirst 300 (.FTEU3: ) index of top
European shares was little changed at 1,148.06 points after
rising earlier to 1,149.05, the highest level since the collapse
of investment bank Lehman Brothers more than two years ago.

The index is up 10 percent this year after rising 26 percent
in 2009 and analysts said the market’s outlook stayed positive.

“The corporate picture still looks very bright, the trend
towards higher profits is going to continue and public policies
should remain shareholder-friendly,” said Henk Potts, equity
strategist at Barclays Wealth.

“In terms of macro environment, we would expect most of the
economies to keep growing and that is a pretty powerful mix of
positivity.”

FOCUS ON ECONOMIC DATA

Investors are due to get a batch of U.S. economic figures
later in the session, including November durable goods and the
weekly jobless claims, as well as November new home sales data.

“Today’s releases for the U.S. economy are likely to
reinforce the market perception that growth in the U.S. economy
is well grounded,” Davy said in a note.

Among individual movers, Scandinavian airline SAS (SAS.ST: )
jumped 10 percent, with traders citing a report that Lufthansa
(LHAG.DE: ) planned a takeover of SAS. Lufthansa and SAS declined
to comment on the report. [ID:nLDE6BM0G3]

Swedish specialty steelmaker SSAB (SSABa.ST: ) fell 3.5
percent after saying its operating profit for the fourth quarter
had been hit by weak shipments and production problems and would
probably be close to zero. [ID:nLDE6420V3]

Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto (RIO.L: ) was down 1.2
percent after the company offered $3.9 billion to buy
African-focused coal miner Riversdale (RIV.AX: ) in an agreed deal
that is expected to be challenged by rivals seeking to secure
coking coal reserves. [ID:nL3E6NM1LU]

Across Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 (.FTSE: ) and Germany’s DAX
(.GDAXI: ) gained 0.1 percent, while France’s CAC 40 (.FCHI: ) was
down 0.2 percent. The Thomson Reuters Peripheral Eurozone
Countries Index (.TRXFLDPIPU: ) was up 0.3 percent.

“The market has delivered a solid rally over the course of
the past two weeks. The problem is you may find a little bit of
indigestion going into the new year. But in the longer term, the
outlook still remains quite positive,” Potts said.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

European shares level off at 27-month high; SAS jumps