European shares rose to fresh six month-highs on Wednesday after euro zone economic data and comments from French banking giant BNP Paribas
BNP-Paribas, France's largest listed lender, was among top risers, up 5.9 percent after it reported better than expected results and Chief Executive Jean-Laurent Bonnafe said he believed the euro zone debt crisis was stabilising and Europe would escape recession.
The bank topped the FTSEurofirst 300 <.FTEU3> index of top European shares, which was up 0.6 percent at 1,076.5 after briefly extending gains at mid-session when Greece's conservative party said it had committed in writing to implementing the new austerity package required by the EU and IMF to release a rescue package.
You've still got a lot of funds that are heavily positioned in defensives and the rotation they're looking to play is finding opportunities to gradually raise their cyclical exposure, particularly in financials, said Gary Baker, head of European equity strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Baker said a continued flow of positive economic data was crucial to support the recent equity rally, noting euro zone GDP number published earlier on Wednesday underpinned signs the worst may be behind us.
Germany and France performed better than forecast in the fourth quarter of 2011, suggesting the euro zone's two largest economies may keep the region above water this year and mitigate the impact on corporate profits of a slowdown in southern Europe.
We think that 4Q11 was the low point in the euro zone business cycle, UniCredit chief euro zone economist, Marco Valli, said.
Forward-looking indicators ... show that activity is bound to stabilise/resume moderate expansion already in 1Q12, also supported by easing financial market tensions and signs of recovery in global growth.
Weak demand in Europe in the last three months of last year has been a recurring feature of the corporate results reporting season, reflected again by figures from French auto maker PSA Peugeot Citroen
PSA, whose shares fell 1.8 percent in high volume, was struggling to finance an overseas expansion needed to reduce dependence on its stagnating home region.
Bucking the trend was Heineken
Shares in the group soared 3.6 percent in a trading volume more than double that of the 90-day average.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)