European stocks were little changed, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index at a six-year high, as a rally in ASML Holding NV offset a decline in ABB Ltd.
ASML jumped the most in a year after saying it plans to increase its 2013 dividend. Rautaruukki Oyj soared 33 percent after SSAB AB offered to buy the Finnish steelmaker. ABB Ltd. retreated 3.6 percent after saying charges from project delays and operational issues will hurt profit.
The Stoxx 600 added 0.1 percent to 336.06 at the close of trading, its highest level since January 2008. The benchmark gauge has gained 2.4 percent so far this year as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund raised their forecasts for global growth.
“It’s a good stockpicker’s market,” Herbert Perus, who helps oversee about $36 billion as head of equities at Raiffeisen Capital Management in Vienna, said in a phone interview. “The earnings that are coming in have been quite good overall. If a company disappoints, the stock gets really hit, which is a bit concerning. Investors can profit from really strong stock movements in either direction.”
The volume of shares changing hands in companies listed on the Stoxx 600 was 20 percent higher than the average of the past 30 days, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
In the U.K., data from the Office for National Statistics showed that unemployment measured by International Labour Organization methods fell to 7.1 percent in the three months through November.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee doesn’t see any immediate need to raise interest rates even if unemployment declines to the 7 percent threshold for considering tightening, according to minutes of the Jan. 8-9 meeting published today. MPC officials said cost pressures remained subdued and economic growth faced continuing headwinds.
National benchmark indexes fell in 10 of the 18 western European markets. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent, Germany’s DAX lost 0.1 percent, while France’s CAC 40 climbed less than 0.1 percent.
ASML rallied 7 percent to 67.51 euros after saying it will increase its 2013 dividend by 15 percent. Europe’s largest semiconductor-equipment supplier will pay 61 euro cents a share, up from 53 euro cents a year earlier.
Rautaruukki rallied 33 percent, its biggest gain since at least 1992, to 9.17 euros after SSAB offered to buy the Finnish steelmaker in a stock swap worth 10.1 billion kronor ($1.56 billion). SSAB, a Swedish steelmaker, surged 12 percent to 54.35 kronor.
For each Rautaruukki share, shareholders will get 0.4752 newly issued SSAB class A shares and 1.2131 new class B shares. The offer represents a premium for Rautaruukki shareholders of 20 percent, based on the closing prices of the company’s and SSAB’s shares on Jan. 21.
Sage Group Plc climbed 3.3 percent to 426.9 pence after the software-publishing company said it expects to meet its target of 6 percent growth in so-called organic revenue in 2015.
“Our performance in the first quarter is in line with our expectations, with good growth maintained across all regions,” Chief Executive Officer Guy Berruyer said in a statement.
PSA Peugeot Citroen climbed 5.8 percent to 11.01 euros after a union leader said the carmaker may cut a further 1,500 jobs in France, in addition to 11,200 positions that it will eliminate by 2015 under its current restructuring plan.
ABB dropped 3.6 percent to 23.34 Swiss francs after saying it will book $260 million in charges because of “operational issues” at its Power Systems division and delays to offshore wind projects. “This means we will not be able to deliver our profitability target for the division in the quarter,” Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Spiesshofer said in a statement.
Allianz SE lost 1.2 percent to 130.95 euros after Mohamed El-Erian resigned from the German insurer’s Pacific Investment Management Co. unit. El-Erian, widely viewed as the successor to Pimco’s Bill Gross, will step down from his dual roles of CEO and chief investment officer in mid-March, Allianz said in a statement yesterday.
Lanxess AG slid 5 percent to 46 euros. JPMorgan Chase & Co. cut its 12-month price estimate on the maker of specialty chemicals to 28 euros from 37 euros and reiterated an underweight rating, similar to sell. The brokerage said new competitors will challenge Lanxess’s pricing structure and market share.