European Stocks Little Changed at Highest Since 2008

European stocks closed little changed, as the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 Index extended its highest level since June 2008.

Snam SpA dropped the most in almost a year as Eni SpA sold an 11.7 percent stake in the owner of Italy’s biggest natural-gas network. Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc tumbled the most in more than 14 months. Experian Plc jumped to a record after the world’s largest credit-checking company raised its dividend and announced a share buyback.

The Stoxx 600 added less than 0.1 percent to 303.74 at the close in London. The benchmark gauge advanced yesterday amid better-than-estimated corporate earnings and has gained 8.6 percent so far in 2013, its best start to a year since 2006. Markets in Switzerland, the Nordic countries and Austria are closed today for Ascension Day. Most businesses closed today in Germany for the holiday.

“After stock markets roared back recently, market participants are taking a pause,” Stephane Ekolo, chief European strategist at Market Securities in London, wrote in a message. “Positive economic data this week and a good set of corporate earnings in the U.S. helped push European bourses higher. Liquidity from central banks is clearly supportive of the stock market at the moment.”

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee left the target for bond purchases at 375 billion pounds ($583 billion), as predicted by all but one of 44 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The bank also kept its key interest rate at a record low of 0.5 percent. In Asia, Bank of Korea Governor Kim Choong Soo and his board lowered the benchmark seven-day repurchase rate to 2.5 percent from 2.75 percent.

U.K. Industry

U.K. industrial production rose more than economists forecast in March as cold weather boosted demand for electricity and gas. Output increased 0.7 percent from February, when it gained 0.9 percent, the Office for National Statistics said in London. The median forecast of 31 economists in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 0.2 percent advance.

In the euro area, Spain beat its maximum target at a bond auction and its borrowing costs fell. The Spanish Treasury sold 4.57 billion euros of debt ($6 billion), compared with its maximum target of 4.5 billion euros, the Bank of Spain said.

In the U.S., initial jobless claims decreased by 4,000 to 323,000 in the week ended May 4, the least since January 2008, Labor Department figures showed. Economists in a Bloomberg survey forecast 335,000 claims.

National benchmark indexes fell in six of the 10 western-European markets open today. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 added 0.1 percent, while France’s CAC 40 dropped 0.7 percent and Germany’s DAX rose 0.2 percent.

Snam Stake

Snam lost 5.1 percent to 3.65 euros. Eni SpA, Italy’s largest oil company, sold a $1.9 billion stake in Snam, according to a statement. About 395 million shares, or 11.7 percent of the company were sold at a price of 3.69 euros a share.

Wm Morrison fell 2.7 percent to 288.4 pence, for its biggest decline since February 2012. The smallest of the U.K.’s four main supermarket chains said sales at stores open at least a year dropped 1.8 percent in the 13 weeks ended May 5. The figure excluded gasoline and value-added tax.

Banca Popolare di Milano Scarl retreated 8.9 percent to 46.72 euro cents. Chairman Andrea Bonomi has abandoned plans to convert Italy’s oldest cooperative bank into a joint-stock company, Il Sole 24 Ore reported without citing anyone.

Price War

British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc tumbled 6.2 percent to 809 pence, for its biggest decrease since July 2011. BT Group Plc said it will sell its sports package to pubs at an 80 percent discount to Sky’s prices.

BT dropped 2.3 percent to 275.7 pence. TalkTalk Telecom Group Plc plunged 12 percent to 221.6 pence.

Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. slid 3.9 percent to 291.5 pence. The ferro-alloys producer said first-quarter output declined 2.9 percent because of maintenance at its Aksu plant.

Experian advanced 6.4 percent to 1,247 pence, the highest price since it sold shares to the public in 2006. The company posted full-year adjusted earnings of 85.7 cents a share, beating analyst estimates for 83.6 cents. Experian increased its dividend to 24 cents and said it will buy back $500 million of shares over the next 12 months.

National Bank of Greece SA rallied 12 percent to 96.1 euro cents, its highest price since Feb. 28, after it announced a tender offer to buy back securities in an effort to strengthen the quality of its capital base.

The nation’s four systemically important lenders are poised to raise 27.5 billion euros of capital with more than 90 percent coming from funds allocated from Greece’s bailouts by the euro area and International Monetary Fund. The government will take control of banks that can’t find private investors for the remainder.

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