European stocks were little changed after four straight weeks of losses for the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 Index, as chemical makers and renewable-energy companies gained while banks fell amid sovereign-debt concern.
BASF SE (BAS), the world’s biggest maker of chemicals, rose 1 percent. Renewable Energy Corp. ASA and Vestas Wind Systems A/S climbed more than 2.5 percent as Germany set 2022 as the final date to close its nuclear reactors. Alpha Bank SA tumbled 9.1 percent in Athens as the International Monetary Fund reviewed Greece’s efforts toward meeting fiscal targets.
The Stoxx 600 slipped less than 0.1 percent to 278.82 at the 4:30 p.m. close in London. Trading volume was lower than normal as U.K. and U.S. exchanges were closed for holidays.
Speculation that Greece will restructure its debt and concern the outlook for other economies in the region is worsening has weighed on stocks since February. The Stoxx 600 has dropped 4.2 percent from this year’s high on Feb. 17, bringing its valuation to 11.1 times the estimated earnings of its companies, near the cheapest since April 2009.
“The debt issues come up again and again, but a lot of people are getting used to these ongoing concerns,” said Peter Braendle, who helps manage $68 billion at Swisscanto Asset Management in Zurich. “We are fairly optimistic on European stocks because of valuations and we are increasing exposure in Europe compared to other markets.”
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said he’ll press ahead with new austerity measures after failing to win backing from the main opposition parties. An international panel of inspectors has concluded that the debt-laden country has missed all the fiscal targets agreed in its rescue plan, Der Spiegel reported May 29, without saying how it obtained the information.
IMF talks with Greek officials to assess the nation’s fiscal achievements continue, Conny Lotze, a Washington-based IMF spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. A debt restructuring would be a “death sentence” and have a dramatic destabilizing impact on the euro region, European Central Bank executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi told the Financial Times.
“The Greek song is the same one and it’s taking longer than hoped for,” said Jacques Porta, a Paris-based fund manager at Ofi Patrimoine, who helps oversee about $425 million in stocks. “We’re not pessimists, and declines in stocks present buying opportunities, but given how things are, we prefer to hold and wait.”
National benchmark indexes declined in 10 of the 17 western European markets open today. France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.2 percent and the Swiss Market Index lost 0.3 percent, while Greece’s ASE sank 2 percent to the lowest since 1997.
Trading in Euro Stoxx 50 futures today was less than a fifth of the average daily volume over the past 20 sessions, according to Bloomberg data.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) equity strategists cut their earnings and price forecasts for the Stoxx 600, citing lower economic growth worldwide and higher commodity prices.
Earnings for companies in the European benchmark may increase by 14 percent this year, down from a previous estimate of 20 percent, the strategists wrote in a report dated May 27. The Stoxx 600 may trade at 280 in three months and 300 in six months, down from forecasts of 290 and 310, respectively.
BASF rose 1 percent to 61.92 euros, leading a measure of chemical makers to the biggest gain among 19 industry groups in the Stoxx 600.
Alternative-energy companies rose as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition resolved their differences over the timing of an exit from nuclear power following Japan’s Fukushima disaster, the worst nuclear crisis since 1986.
Renewable Energy Corp., a maker of solar-energy wafers, cells and modules, gained 3.7 percent to 12.99 kroner. Vestas, the largest wind-turbine manufacturer, climbed 2.7 percent to 151 kroner. Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica SA, Europe’s second-biggest wind-turbine maker, surged 5.2 percent to 6.52 euros and Enel Green Power SpA (EGPW), a unit of Italy’s largest energy company, rallied 4.8 percent to 1.92 euros.
RWE AG (RWE) and EON AG, Germany’s largest power companies, retreated 1.7 percent to 40.31 euros and 2.3 percent to 19.56 euros, respectively. A tax on spent fuel rods will remain even as the shutdown proceeds, German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said.
Alpha Bank, Greece’s third-biggest lender, slumped 9.1 percent to 2.91 euros, the lowest since June 1995. EFG Eurobank Ergasias SA (EUROB), the country’s second-largest bank, declined 6.2 percent to 2.87 euros.
“So far the Greek crisis has remained within certain limits, but as the situation deteriorates, the risk increases of starting to see the effect broadening,” said Elwin de Groot, senior market economist at Rabobank in Utrecht, Netherlands. “The situation looks increasingly difficult.”
Banco Comercial Portugues SA (BCP), Portugal’s biggest non-state bank by assets, retreated 6.6 percent to 46.7 euro cents, the lowest since at least 1993. Rights that allow the purchase of shares for 36 cents each tumbled 33 percent to 1.1 cent, meaning investors must pay almost 10 cents to acquire one new share at that price.
Athens-based Intralot SA, the world’s second-biggest gambling services provider, tumbled 22 percent to 1.64 euros, the largest drop in 12 years. Chairman Sokratis Kokkalis may face prosecution after an investigation into a technical services contract with Opap SA, Eleftherotypia newspaper said, without saying where it got the information.
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