European Stocks Rise, Erase Monthly Drop; Vodafone Surges
European stocks rose, erasing their monthly loss, as Vodafone Group Plc surged to an 11-year high while data showed the U.S. economy grew faster than forecast in the second quarter and a drop in jobless claims beat estimates.
Vodafone jumped 8.2 percent after saying Verizon Communications Inc. is in talks to acquire its stake in their Verizon Wireless venture. Carrefour SA rallied the most in seven months after posting an increase in first-half profit. Zurich Insurance Group AG declined 2.5 percent as Chairman Josef Ackermann resigned.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index added 0.8 percent to 300.13. The gauge lost 2.2 percent in the past three days, closing yesterday at a six-week low, on concern the U.S. will take military action against Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry this week said America will hold Syria accountable for the chemical-weapon attacks that opposition groups say killed as many as 1,300.
“I don’t think the Syria crisis will have that strong an impact on the markets on a longer-term horizon,” Tobias Britsch, who helps oversee $33 billion as European equities asset manager at Meriten Investment Management GmbH, said by telephone from Dusseldorf, Germany. “Over a six-to-12-month horizon, I’m quite optimistic for equity markets. We’re not out of the woods, but we’re in a better place than we were.”
The U.S. economy grew at a 2.5 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, Commerce Department figures showed. That compared with the initial estimate of 1.7 percent and economists’ median estimate of a 2.2 percent gain. A separate report showed applications for jobless benefits fell by 6,000 to 331,000 last week from a revised 337,000 in the prior week.
The prospect of imminent military action against Syria weakened as the U.K. and France said they prefer waiting for the results of a United Nations investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad’s government against its citizens. The U.S., which says it has evidence his administration was responsible, will not act without allies, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
National benchmark indexes gained in all of the western European markets except Iceland and Switzerland. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 rallied 0.8 percent, while France’s CAC 40 climbed 0.7 percent. Germany’s DAX advanced 0.5 percent.
Vodafone (VOD) surged 8.2 percent to 204.75 pence, its highest price since January 2002. Europe’s biggest wireless carrier said it is in talks with Verizon to sell its 45 percent stake in their Verizon Wireless venture.
The transaction may be valued at $130 billion, people with knowledge of the matter said. At that price, the deal would be the biggest since Vodafone’s acquisition of Mannesmann AG in 2000 and would give the U.K. carrier’s finances a boost as it tries to revive operations hurt by Europe’s debt crisis.
A gauge of telecommunications stocks rallied the most since August 2011, posting the best performance among the 19 industry groups in the Stoxx 600.
Carrefour (CA) rose 5.6 percent to 24.06 euros, for its biggest gain since Jan. 17. France’s largest retailer reported a 4.9 percent increase in first-half profit. Recurring operating income jumped to 766 million euros ($1.02 billion), in line with the median analyst estimate of 767 million euros.
Melrose Industries Plc (MRO) advanced 6.1 percent to 301.8 pence, its highest price since it sold shares to the public in October 2003. The owner of Brush Turbogenerators said first-half sales more than doubled from a year earlier.
WPP Plc climbed 4.2 percent to 1,227 pence, its highest price since March 2000. The world’s largest advertising company said first-half sales increased 7.1 percent on stronger growth in the U.K. and North America, helping counter a slowdown in Asia and Africa.
Baloise Holding AG (BALN) gained 2.5 percent to 100.10 Swiss francs. Switzerland’s third-biggest insurer said first-half net income rose to 244.8 million francs ($265 million), from 218.3 million francs in the year-before period. The company also said it is on track to meet its financial targets.
Zurich Insurance declined 2.5 percent to 228.80 francs. Ackermann is resigning from the board with immediate effect after the company’s finance chief Pierre Wauthier committed suicide. He will be replaced by Vice Chairman Tom de Swaan.
“The unexpected death of Pierre Wauthier has deeply shocked me,” Ackermann said in a statement. “I have reasons to believe that the family is of the opinion that I should take my share of responsibility, as unfounded as any allegations might be.”
Vienna Insurance Group AG lost 3.4 percent to 39.49 euros. Austria’s biggest insurer reported second-quarter pretax profit of 46.3 million euros, falling short of the average analyst estimate of 67.8 million euros.
Serco Group Plc tumbled 11 percent to 538.5 pence for its biggest drop since July 2002. The U.K. government said police are investigating suspected fraud by Serco staff in a contract for prisoner escorting and custodial services. The Ministry of Justice gave the company three months to improve governance and said the company may be excluded from all government contracts if it failed to do so.
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