European Stocks Fluctuate as Bernanke Says More Easing Possible

European stocks fluctuated and U.S. index futures fell as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the world’s largest economy may need more stimulus. Asian shares were unchanged.

Hochtief AG gained 2.9 percent after the company said Qatar Holding LLC aims to become a major shareholder in the builder. Bank of Ireland Plc rose 7.2 percent after J. Christopher Flowers signaled he is continuing to look for Irish banking assets. Hermes International SCA slipped 4.2 percent after family shareholders stepped up their defense against a possible takeover by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index gained less than 0.1 percent to 271.02 at 10:42 a.m. in London. The benchmark gauge advanced 1.6 percent last week as the European Central Bank delayed its withdrawal of emergency liquidity measures and bought Portuguese and Irish government bonds. The gauge is now trading within 1 percent of this year’s highest level on Nov. 9.

“I don’t think we should be surprised” by Bernanke’s comments, said London-based Manoj Ladwa, a senior trader at Monecor London Ltd. on Bloomberg Television. “It’s pretty much the only thing he’s got left in his arsenal, he can’t really reduce interest rates any further so he has to go down the route of purchasing more debt.”

Fed Chairman Bernanke said the U.S. economy is barely expanding at a sustainable pace and it’s possible policy makers may expand bond purchases beyond the $600 billion announced last month to spur growth.

‘Certainly Possible’

The purchase of more bonds than planned is “certainly possible,” Bernanke said in an interview broadcast yesterday by CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes” program. “It depends on the efficacy of the program” and the outlook for inflation and the economy.

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures slipped 0.4 percent today, while the MSCI Asia Pacific Index was unchanged.

European finance ministers travel to Brussels today as officials voiced divisions over the steps needed to stop the sovereign debt crisis after contagion spread from Greece and Ireland.

Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders told reporters on Dec. 4 that the region’s 750 billion-euro ($1 trillion) bailout fund might be expanded if ministers decide to introduce a larger permanent facility when the current temporary one expires, breaking ranks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. Luxembourg and Italy today called for the creation of joint European bonds, a move rebuffed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Hochtief, which is battling a takeover bid by Spain’s ACS SA, gained 2.9 percent to 61.84 euros. Qatar Holding is aiming to own almost 9.1 percent of the German builder after Hochtief announced today it will increase its capital stock by about 10 percent by issuing stock at 57.114 euros each.

Bank of Ireland gained 7.2 percent to 34.4 euros in Dublin as Flowers, founder of New York-based private equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co., said in an interview that “if we can find the right opportunity to invest in Ireland, we would like to do that.”

Punch Taverns Plc surged 6.9 percent to 69.4 pence after the Mail on Sunday reported CVC Capital Partners Ltd. is in talks with Punch’s adviser Goldman Sachs Group Inc. about a possible bid for the company, without saying where it got the information.

TPG Capital is also talking to Goldman about buying some or all of the assets, the newspaper said. TDR Capital LLP, Apax Partners LLP, Bridgehouse Capital, Charterhouse Capital Partners LLP and Cinven Ltd. are also interested, the Mail reported.

‘Opportunistic Approach’

De La Rue Plc jumped 22 percent to 709.5 pence, the biggest gain in eight years, after saying it has received a “highly preliminary and opportunistic approach.” Sky News reported that the world’s biggest printer of banknotes received and rejected a takeover bid from France’s Oberthur Technologies SA, without saying where it got the information.

Lonza Group AG rallied 4.3 percent to 82.25 francs and Syngenta AG gained 2.1 percent to 284.7 francs as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. upgraded European chemical companies to “neutral” from “cautious.”

Analysts raised their price forecast for Lonza shares to 95 francs from 83 francs previously, and the estimate for Syngenta to 410 francs from 325 francs.

Hermes paced declining shares, falling 4.2 percent to 144.3 euros, after the family shareholders, who own a 73.4 percent stake, set up a holding company for more than 50 percent of the share capital.

Hermes family members need a mechanism to allow shareholders to sell without LVMH swooping on the stock, said a person familiar with the matter. Family members sold an average 0.5 percent of the share capital annually over the last decade, said the person, who declined to be identified because the talks were private.

Michelin & Cie. dropped 2.5 percent to 54.84 euros after UBS AG downgraded the world’s second-largest tiremaker to “sell” from “neutral” and lowered its 2011 earnings estimate by 13 percent.

Desire Petroleum Plc plunged 45 percent to 73 pence, the largest drop since March, after the U.K. energy explorer said the Rachel North well off the Falkland Islands won’t produce oil.

That reverses the company’s Dec. 2 report that the well may have made a commercially viable find. Rockhopper Exploration Plc, which has a 7.5 percent stake in the Rachel well, said testing showed some reservoirs were mostly water bearing with residual oil. The shares sank 9.8 percent to 310.25 pence.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Jones in London at sjones35@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Merritt at dmerritt1@bloomberg.net.

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