Health stocks and Nokia nudge up European shares

Sat Dec 8, 2012 12:06am IST

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* FTSEurofirst 300 ends up 0.1 pct at 1,132.69 points

* FTSEurofirst 300 finishes at 18-month closing high

* Euro STOXX 50 slips 0.1 pct to 2,601.37 points

* Some traders back selling on rallies

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

LONDON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - European shares edged higher on Friday, lifted by major healthcare stocks and telecoms group Nokia, although some traders said they would look to sell equities due to an uncertain economic backdrop.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index ended up 0.1 percent to 1,132.69 points - an 18-month closing high and its best finish since ending at 1,142.18 points on May 31, 2011.

The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index, which had also reached a 2012 intraday peak of 2,617.83 points this week, slipped 0.1 percent to 2,601.37 points.

Nokia was the best performer on the FTSEurofirst, up 5.3 percent as investors cheered its smartphone sales deal this week with China Mobile, although the stock is still down around 20 percent so far this year.

"It's onwards and upwards for that stock. It looks as if Nokia has turned a corner," said Terry Torrison, managing director at Monaco-based McLaren Securities.

Healthcare stocks such as Roche and Sanofi also added the most points to the FTSEurofirst 300.

Roche rose 0.9 percent while Sanofi gained 0.7 percent, which traders said was due to upgrades on the stocks by Morgan Stanley, which raised its rating on Roche to "overweight" from "equal weight."

However, some analysts noted the fact that some key European equity indexes had failed to close above important technical levels.

Berkeley Futures associate director Richard Griffiths said the fact that the Euro STOXX 50 had failed to end above levels of around 2,610 points - a level from which it has previously fallen back - could herald more slight declines next week.

"It's stalled at the previous highs, which means we might drift lower next week," he said.

ITALY AND SPAIN UNDERPERFORM

European equity markets also drifted off earlier intraday highs on Friday due to a lack of progress in the United States over a deal to avoid growth-curbing austerity measures.

U.S. politicians remain in deadlock over talks to avert a "fiscal cliff".

The term refers to a combination of U.S. government spending cuts and tax rises due to be implemented under existing law in early 2013 that could hit the U.S. economy, although most investors expect politicians to reach a deal eventually.

The uncertain economic backdrop was further underlined on Friday by a rise in the bond yields of Spain and Italy, following fresh political tension in Rome that has undermined the position of Italy's Prime Minister.

Italy's FTSE MIB benchmark equity index fell 0.9 percent while Spain's IBEX declined by 0.8 percent, with both debt-ridden countries struggling to cope with the effects of the euro zone sovereign debt crisis.

HED Capital head Richard Edwards recommended that investors sell Greek, Spanish and Italian equities.

"The competitiveness of Italy and Spain cannot be restored easily. I wouldn't buy the market here. I think the best thing is to sell on rallies," he said.

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