Eurostocks pushed to higher close by oils, Skandia
European blue chips rose in late trading yesterday, as investors applauded a major asset sale by Swedish financial group Skandia and snapped up heavily-weighted oil stocks like Italy's ENI.
Belgian brewing giant Interbrew soared as investors warmed to its choice of a new chief executive, while BASF rose sharply after the German chemicals group played down merger expectations.
Overall sentiment remained nervy, though, as the war clouds continued to gather on the horizon, with many strategists yet to be convinced about the likelihood of a decisive pick-up in company profits.
"We're in no-man's land," said James Barty, chief European equity strategist at Deutsche Bank.
"Markets are cheap enough but you have huge uncertainty in the form of a potential Gulf War, which could be quick but could yet drag on and derail economic recovery by boosting oil prices for a protracted period of time."
By 1642 GMT, with only Frankfurt still trading, the FTSE Eurotop 300 index of European blue chips was up 1.0 per cent at 868 points, while the narrower DJ Euro Stoxx 50 rose 1.4 per cent to 2,439 points.
The pan-European benchmark Eurotop 300 was virtually flat over the week, having drifted in seasonally-thin volumes.
The index has retraced about half of its 20 per cent gain since plumbing a five-and-a-half year low in October as economic and geopolitical worries resurfaced, despite bids to revive sentiment using interest rate cuts on both sides of the Atlantic.
"Sentiment remains relatively ill-disposed towards equities after three down years," said Roger Nightingale, consultant for Swiss private bank Sarasin.
Dealers said trading was volatile at times, as equity-linked future and option contracts expired across Europe. But the volatility failed to match Thursday's erratic performance and expectations of a repeat of last quarter's frantic activity in London proved unfounded.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.9 per cent in the first ten minutes of trading, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.76 per cent.
Helping sentiment there were comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan that growth could accelerate next year, with little risk of deflation.
Concern that a second Gulf war could disrupt Middle Eastern crude supplies helped Italian oil firm ENI gain more than three per cent.
British peer BP and France's TotalFinaElf rose about 0.8 per cent each, as the price of crude consolidated near a two-year high.
Swedish financial company Skandia was Europe's top performing stock, jumping by more than a fifth after announcing it would sell its US unit to Prudential Financial for $1.15 billion, exiting its biggest single market to repay debt.
Interbrew, the world's No. 3 brewer by volume, jumped 8.47 per cent after naming John Brock from Cadbury Schweppes to replace retiring Chief Executive Hugo Powell.
Shares in BASF rose 4.7 per cent after Europe's largest chemicals group's Chief Executive Juergen Strube told Reuters it had no interest in pursuing a major merger in the sector, though it may make small acquisitions in specific fields.