March 12 (Bloomberg) -- European stocks were little changed, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index closing near its highest level in 4 1/2 years, as a report showed that U.K. manufacturing output unexpectedly contracted.
Antofagasta Plc climbed to its highest price in a month after the copper producer more than doubled its dividend from a year earlier. St. James’s Place Plc dropped the most in eight months after Lloyds Banking Group Plc reduced its stake in the wealth manager. Pirelli & C. SpA fell after forecasting earnings for 2013 that fell short of analysts’ estimates.
The Stoxx 600 added less than 0.1 percent to 295.37 at the close after climbing as much as 0.3 percent and dropping as much as 0.2 percent. The gauge has surged 5.6 percent this year as U.S. lawmakers agreed on a compromise budget. The equity benchmark rose to its highest level since June 2008 last week.
“We’re getting more cautious about this top of the equity market, and we’re beginning to think maybe you should take some risk off the table,” said Philippe Bonnefoy, who oversees $565 million as chief investment officer at Newscape Capital Group. He spoke in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “Analysts have been pretty positive and aggressive on earnings and you’ve seen earnings downgrades rather than upgrades in many cases.”
Of the 269 companies on the Stoxx 600 that have posted quarterly earnings this season, 49 percent have beaten analysts’ profit projections, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with 52 percent for the previous quarter.
National benchmark indexes advanced in 10 of the 18 western-European markets. France’s CAC 40 and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 rose 0.1 percent. Germany’s DAX fell 0.2 percent. The number of shares changing hands in Stoxx 600-listed companies was 9.7 percent lower than the average of the past 30 days, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The Stoxx 600 rallied 2.3 percent last week, its biggest advance in two months, as a report showed the U.S. economy created more jobs than forecast and optimism mounted that central banks will continue to stimulate their economies.
U.K. manufacturing output slipped 1.5 percent in January after increasing a revised 1.5 percent in December, according to a statement from the Office for National Statistics. Economists had predicted the measure would be unchanged. Total industrial production in the European Union’s third-largest economy declined 1.2 percent in January after gaining 1.1 percent in the previous month, separate figures showed. Economists had called for a 0.1 percent increase.
Antofagasta gained 3.1 percent to 1,129 pence after the copper producer controlled by Chile’s Luksic family proposed a dividend of 98.5 cents a share, compared with 44 cents a year earlier. The average analyst estimate had called for a dividend of 58 cents.
SBM Offshore NV surged 21 percent to 12.93 euros, its biggest rally since at least October 1989, after agreeing to pay $470 million to settle a dispute with Talisman Energy Inc. The world’s biggest supplier of floating oil rigs said it will take a provision of $270 million in addition to the $200 million that it set aside in December for its Yme platform in the North Sea.
St. James’s Place lost 3.2 percent to 519.50 pence. Lloyds sold 102 million shares in the company, leaving the bank with a 37 percent stake. Britain’s biggest mortgage lender said it will make a gain of 400 million pounds ($596 million) from the sale and the revaluation of its remaining holding. Lloyds added 1.2 percent to 50.6 pence.
Pirelli retreated 4.2 percent to 8.55 euros after Europe’s third-largest tiremaker forecast earnings before interest and taxes of 810 million euros ($1.1 billion) to 850 million euros in 2013. That compared with the average analyst estimate of 875 million euros in a Bloomberg survey.
Fraport AG dropped 4 percent to 43.24 euros, its biggest decline in 10 months. The owner of Frankfurt airport forecast earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2013 that fell short of analysts’ estimates. Fraport also closed Frankfurt airport, which is the third largest in Europe, because of snow.
Geberit AG slipped 1.9 percent to 227.40 Swiss francs after the Swiss toilet maker predicted that construction will probably contract in Europe in 2013 as governments reel in spending and lending. The company depends on the region for more than 90 percent of its sales.
STMicroelectronics NV slid 4.6 percent to 5.81 euros after six people familiar with the situation said the company has failed to find a buyer for its wireless-chip joint venture with Ericsson AB. The two firms will now consider winding down the four-year-old ST-Ericsson as one option for its future, the people said, asking not to be named because the discussions are private. Potential buyers including Samsung Electronics Co. declined to make an offer, said two people.
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