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Banks boost European shares after Fed signals December hike

[LONDON] Banking shares drove European bourses higher on Thursday after the US Federal Reserve signalled a likely December rate hike and announced it would begin trimming its balance sheet in October.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended up 0.3 per cent while euro zone stocks and blue-chips rose 0.4 per cent as the US central bank's optimism on the economy stoked renewed enthusiasm for financials and cyclical sectors in Europe.

"The market's reaction... is positive on the back of the Fed acting in line with expectations, and with that the market anticipates the Euro strength momentum to fade," said Britta Weidenbach, head of European equities at Deutsche Asset Management.

Banks, the biggest gainers from interest rate rises that cushion margins, jumped 1.4 per cent to a one-month high on the prospect of the European Central Bank following the United States in bringing ultra-loose monetary policy to an end.

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Analysts have been increasing their earnings expectations for European banks for much of the past 12 months.

"No one is expecting any big moves on the interest rate front in Europe but it's about the direction upwards, and that is good for financials which account for a big part of European indices," said Ms Weidenbach.

Commerzbank rose 3.5 per cent on reports of merger approaches.

Reuters reported on Wednesday UniCredit had approached Commerzbank for a possible merger, and German weekly WirtschaftsWoche on Thursday said the government favours a merger of the state-backed bank with France's BNP Paribas.

BNP shares rose one per cent while Unicredit was up 2 per cent.

Merger and acquisition activity continued to drive shares with Irish building materials firm CRH rising 3 per cent, bolstering the construction sector, after it agreed to buy US cement maker Ash Grove Cement Co.

Siemens rose 1.3 per cent after reports it is in talks to merge its rail business with that of either Alstom or Bombardier and will pick a preferred partner within days for further negotiations.

Alstom shot up 3.9 per cent to a nine-week high.

Meanwhile, shares in Finnish power provider Fortum slipped 3.5 per cent from a two-year high hit on Wednesday after it said it was in talks to buy E.ON's stake in Uniper.

"Fortum may have picked an opportune point in the cycle for its bid, although enthusiasm for the transaction banks on investors being willing to value Uniper's assets on a higher multiple within Fortum," Deutsche Bank analysts said in a note.

Troubled British outsourcer Capita slumped 11.6 per cent to the bottom of the European index after first-half revenue declined and the hunt for a new CEO continued.

REUTERS

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