European Stocks Advance, Extending Rally; Kuoni Increases

European stocks rose, extending their biggest gain in two weeks, after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he isn’t seeking to split up Ukraine.

Kuoni Reisen Holding AG climbed 8.2 percent after Switzerland’s biggest travel company posted 2013 profit that exceeded analysts’ estimates. SBM Offshore NV rallied 6.3 percent. Cairn Energy Plc fell to its lowest price in more than 10 years after saying it is suspending a buyback program. Scania AB declined 2.1 percent after a board committee recommended rejecting Volkswagen AG’s takeover offer.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index gained 0.6 percent to 327.93 at the close in London, after earlier falling as much as 0.5 percent. The gauge climbed 1.1 percent yesterday, rebounding from its biggest weekly loss since January.

“The words that market participants wanted to hear were that he’ll respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and will be satisfied with Crimea, and won’t go for more,” said Benno Galliker, a trader at Luzerner Kantonalbank AG in Lucerne, Switzerland. “These words were heard, and we’re seeing a relief nudge up.”

Putin signaled that his country isn’t about to occupy eastern Ukraine after a March 16 Crimean referendum backed joining Russia by almost 97 percent. The U.S. and European Union imposed sanctions on Russian and Crimean officials and threatened further measures.

FOMC Meeting

In the U.S., Federal Reserve policy makers are starting a two-day meeting today. The central bank will probably scrap its 6.5 percent jobless rate threshold to adopt qualitative guidance for signaling when it will consider raising the benchmark interest rate, economists said in a survey. Payrolls rose more than projected last month and unemployment fell to 6.7 percent from 7 percent in November.

The Federal Open Market Committee will also announce a $10 billion cut in monthly bond buying to $55 billion and continue reductions at that pace at every meeting before announcing an end to the program at its Oct. 28-29 gathering, according to the median of responses in the survey.

National benchmark indexes advanced in all of the 18 western-European markets. Germany’s DAX gained 0.7 percent, while France’s CAC added 1 percent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 rose 0.6 percent.

Kuoni climbed 8.2 percent to 409 Swiss francs. The company said 2013 earnings before interest and taxes rose to 154.2 million francs ($176.7 million), more than the 142.3 million francs analysts had projected. Kuoni added it plans to raise its dividend payout ratio to 40 percent to 45 percent from 30 percent to 35 percent.

SBM Offshore

SBM Offshore rallied 6.3 percent to 11.35 euros. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Dutch supplier of floating oil and gas rigs doesn’t see any indications of improper sales practices in Brazil, citing its head of investor relations, Nicolas Robert. On Feb. 18, Petroleo Brasileiro SA said it initiated an internal audit into allegations of contract irregularities with the company after documents were leaked on the Internet.

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA increased 2.7 percent to 24.6 euro cents. Citigroup Inc. upgraded its recommendation for the bailed-out Italian lender to neutral, the equivalent of hold, from sell. The brokerage cited strong capital generation and a focus on cost cutting.

Voestalpine AG gained 5.5 percent to 32.06 euros. The Austrian steelmaker said it will reduce costs by 900 million euros ($1.25 billion) in the next three years, adding it won’t cut jobs.

Cairn Buyback

Cairn Energy slumped 14 percent to 168.2 pence, the lowest price since January 2004. The Scottish oil explorer said it is suspending its share repurchase program until an Indian tax issue is resolved. The company said in January authorities are auditing it for the year ended March 2007.

Scania fell 2.1 percent to 191.80 kronor. A board committee reviewing Volkswagen’s takeover offer said the bid was too low. The German company offered 6.7 billion euros for the Swedish truckmaker’s stock it doesn’t already own. The bid was 36 percent higher than Scania’s closing price on Feb. 21, when Volkswagen announced its plan for a full takeover. Volkswagen rose 0.1 percent to 180.40 euros.

Resolution Ltd. lost 5.9 percent to 351 pence for the biggest decline in 11 months. The value of new business missed some analysts’ estimates, even as the insurer reported a 59 percent increase in pretax operating profit. The company also said it is renaming itself Friends Life Group Ltd. as founder Clive Cowdery steps down from the board.

The volume of shares changing hands in Stoxx 600 companies was 9.7 percent greater than the average of the last 30 days, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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