Europe Stocks Little Changed as Draghi Reiterates Pledge

Stocks in Europe were little changed, after climbing for seven days, as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said policy makers are prepared to add further measures to support the euro-area economy if necessary.

BTG Plc added 1 percent after saying annual sales will be near the top of its forecast range. A gauge of European banks climbed to its highest level since January. Nokian Renkaat Oyj slipped 2.7 percent after cutting its 2014 profit and sales estimates because of weaker Russian demand. Pernod Ricard SA fell 1.2 percent as Credit Suisse Group AG recommended selling the stock.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.1 percent to 337.25 at the close of trading. The equity benchmark has gained 4 percent since March 24 as improving U.S. data signaled the world’s largest economy is recovering from the harsh winter.

“Draghi tends to speak vaguely and just reiterate earlier speeches but he was more specific and aggressive this time round,” Steven Santos, a broker at X-Trade Brokers DM SA, said by phone from Lisbon. “It looks like the ECB is increasingly pondering cutting the main interest rate and that the central bank might even come up with new measures soon. Markets clearly want more intervention from Draghi.”

The ECB left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low 0.25 percent, matching all but three of 57 economists’ projections compiled by Bloomberg. Central bank officials held the deposit rate at zero and the marginal lending rate at 0.75 percent.

Quantitative Easing

Draghi said that the central bank discussed the possibility of using quantitative easing among a range of measures at today’s monthly meeting. “The Governing Council is unanimous in its commitment to using also unconventional instruments within its mandate in order to cope effectively with risks of a too prolonged period of low inflation,” he said.

U.S. data showed service industries expanded at a faster pace last month. The Institute for Supply Management said its non-manufacturing index rose to 53.1 in March from 51.6 in February. The median economist projection was for a reading of 53.5. Numbers greater than 50 signal expansion in industries that make up almost 90 percent of the world’s largest economy.

National benchmark indexes rose in nine of 18 western-European markets today. France’s CAC 40 gained 0.4 percent, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 lost 0.2 percent, and Germany’s DAX added 0.1 percent. Markets in Italy and Spain closed at their highest levels since May 2011.

BTG Advances

BTG added 1 percent to 546.5 pence. The British biotechnology company, which won U.S. regulatory clearance for its varicose-vein treatment in November, said sales for the year ended March 31 probably neared the top end of its 275 million pound ($456 million) to 285 million-pound projection. BTG will report its annual results on May 20.

A gauge of European lenders jumped the most of the 19 industry groups on the Stoxx 600 as borrowing costs slipped in countries including Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece. Banco Santander SA, the largest Spanish bank, gained 1.9 percent to 7.15 euros, while Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA added 3.6 percent to 9.22 euros. UniCredit SpA, Italy’s largest lender, increased 2.8 percent to 6.77 euros.

Quindell Plc advanced 5.8 percent to 36.8 pence after the provider of outsourcing services said insurance broker Swinton Group Ltd. extended its contract with the company to March 2015.

Nokian Renkaat

Nokian Renkaat dropped 2.7 percent to 29.86 euros. The Finnish tiremaker said net sales and operating profit will probably drop this year because of the weaker outlook for Russia’s economy and the declining ruble. The company had predicted revenue and earnings growth on Feb. 7. Russia and its neighboring countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States accounted for 34 percent of the company’s sales last year.

The ruble weakened 6.8 percent in the first three months of 2014 versus the Russian central bank’s target basket of dollars and euros.

Rexel SA declined 2.3 percent to 18.95 euros. Ray Investment SARL, Rexel’s second-largest publicly disclosed investor, said it sold 26.9 million shares in the wire and cable distributor at 18.85 euros apiece.

Pernod Ricard fell 1.2 percent to 83.16 euros. Credit Suisse cut its rating on the maker of Absolut vodka and Chivas Regal whisky to underperform, similar to a sell recommendation, from neutral, saying an improvement in Chinese sales may take longer than investors expect.