European Stocks Halt 2-Week Decline on Surprise Results

European stocks were unchanged this week, halting a two-week decline, as better-than-estimated results from ABB Ltd. to PSA Peugeot Citroen offset a deeper-than-forecast contraction in the economy.

ABB, the world’s largest maker of power transformers, rallied the most in 14 months. Peugeot jumped 6.7 percent after the French automaker reported a smaller-than-projected loss. Michelin & Cie. sank the most in nine months as earnings trailed forecasts. Finmeccanica SpA plummeted the most in 15 months as Chief Executive Officer Giuseppe Orsi was arrested amid bribery allegations relating to an Indian helicopter contract.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index was unchanged this past week at 287.34. It fell 0.8 percent the previous two weeks as political uncertainty in Italy and Spain send the nations’ bond yields higher. The gauge has still climbed 2.7 percent this year after U.S. lawmakers agreed on a compromise budget.

“The growth outlook is improving, the liquidity backdrop is still supportive, earnings are robust and equity valuations are reasonable,” said Abi Oladimeji, who helps oversee $4.3 billion as head of investment strategy at Thomas Miller Investment Ltd. in London. “However, there are some short-term concerns that we are looking at. Markets appear to be overbought and the technicals are looking quite stretched.”

The Stoxx 600 is trading at 12.3 times its companies’ estimated earnings, compared with an average of 11.5 over the past five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The VStoxx Index, which measures the expected volatility in the region through Euro Stoxx 50 Index options prices, rose 1.6 percent this week.

Economy Contracts

A report this week showed the euro-area economy shrank more than forecast in the fourth quarter. Gross domestic product fell 0.6 percent from the previous three months, compared with the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists for a contraction of 0.4 percent.

Ministers from the 17-member euro area met during the week to discuss aid to Cyprus and Greece as a tightening election contest in Italy and a political scandal in Spain threatened to reignite the region’s debt crisis. Group of 20 finance chiefs and central bankers began gathering in Moscow yesterday to find some common ground on currencies.

National benchmark indexes climbed in 10 of the 18 western European markets. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 climbed 1 percent and France’s CAC 40 added 0.3 percent. Germany’s DAX fell 0.8 percent while Denmark’s OMX Copenhagen 20 slumped 4.5 percent as Novo Nordisk A/S, which makes up 43 percent of the gauge, sank 11 percent after U.S. regulators rejected its new insulin.

Earnings Season

Some 54 percent of companies in the Stoxx 600 reported earnings that topped analysts’ estimates this week, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Fifty-six percent beat revenue projections, the data show.

ABB surged 8.8 percent, the biggest increase since December 2011. The Zurich-based company reported better-than-estimated earnings, helped by rising orders in the U.S., the Middle East and Africa.

Peugeot gained 6.7 percent as Europe’s second-biggest carmaker posted a loss before interest, taxes and one-time items of 576 million euros ($769 million) for 2012, narrower than the 647 million-euro average analyst estimate.

Barclays Plc rallied 7.6 percent after the second-largest U.K. lender by assets announced 3,700 jobs cuts, helping to reduce annual costs by 1.7 billion pounds ($2.7 billion). The bank posted a loss of 1.04 billion pounds for 2012, its first full-year loss in 20 years.

Heineken Higher

Heineken NV rallied 3.7 percent, the most since October, as the world’s third-largest brewer reported earnings before interest and taxes, excluding some items, of 2.9 billion euros, topping the median estimate for profit of 2.85 billion euros.

Kabel Deutschland Holding AG surged 7.2 percent after a person familiar with the matter said Vodafone Group Plc is considering a takeover bid for Germany’s biggest cable provider. Vodafone, the world’s second-largest wireless carrier, dropped 3.5 percent for the biggest decline in three months.

Michelin lost 6.5 percent for the largest retreat since May. Europe’s largest tiremaker forecast no growth in sales volume and earnings in 2013 as last year’s operating profit missed analysts’ projections.

Finmeccanica, Italy’s biggest arms company, plunged 16 percent. Orsi resigned as chairman and lost the chief executive role to Alessandro Pansa after being arrested on charges of corruption and tax fraud. Finmeccanica’s effort to sell its stake in power-plant construction unit Ansaldo Energia risks being put on hold for months, people familiar with the disposal efforts said.

ING Groep NV retreated 3.9 percent. The biggest Dutch financial-services company reported profit that missed estimates on restructuring expenses as it announced 1,400 more job cuts in the Netherlands and 1,000 in Belgium.

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