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Europe: Shares supported by oil stocks after US strike in Syria

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[MILAN] European shares inched up on Friday, reversing earlier weakness as oil stocks climbed after a US cruise missile strike in Syria sent crude prices near to one-month highs.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index ended up 0.1 per cent, also supported by precious metal miners which benefited from a rise in prices of gold, which is seen as a safe-haven asset. On the week the Stoxx 600 was flat.

Oil stocks provided the biggest boost to the Stoxx with their sectoral index surging to its highest level in 10 weeks with majors BP, Total, and Royal Dutch Shell all up around one per cent.

After a sluggish start to the year energy stocks have seen a return of interest, with investors betting that producing countries will agree output cuts and a pick-up in merger and acquisition activity in the sector further lifting the mood.

On Friday, analysts at Deutsche Bank were latest to turn positive on the European energy sector, upgrading it to a "tactical overweight".

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Europe's oil index has gained 5 per cent over the last two weeks, scoring its best two-week gains since mid-December.

Precious metals miners were among the top gainers on Friday as investors fled to low-risk assets such as gold, which hit a five-month high amid rising global security tensions.

Shares in Randgold Resources rose 4.3 per cent, the second biggest gainer on the Stoxx after oil firm Tullow Oil, while silver and gold miner Fresnillo added 1.8 per cent.

Defence firm BAE Systems added 2.4 per cent, in line with US peers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, which makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles used in the strike.

European shares touched the day's lows after disappointing US non-farm payrolls data. But traders said the figures had not changed expectations surrounding monetary policy in the world's largest economy.

"The overall trend remains one of very strong job creation. This alone won't stop the Fed from hiking twice more this year. A war in Syria might - geopolitics has taken on much greater significance again," said ETX Capital analyst Neil Wilson.

Elsewhere price action was dictated by broker moves.

British online grocer Ocado fell 5.4 per cent after UBS cut its rating on the stock to 'sell' from 'buy', while upgrades from RBC boosted merging fund managers Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management.

Real estate stocks surged to fresh six-month highs, supported for a second day by expectations that the European Central Bank will remain cautious on any tightening measure following recent lower-than-expected inflation data.

Real estate stock benefit from low interest rates, which make their yields more attractive. Banks, which instead see bigger lending margins when interest rates rise, fell 0.2 per cent on Friday.


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