Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- European stocks advanced for a third day, pushing the Stoxx Europe 600 Index to a six-month high, as investors speculated that euro-area officials are nearing an agreement on a bailout for Greece.
Societe Generale SA, Banco Santander SA and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc paced gains by lenders. Anglo American Plc added 1.1 percent after posting annual earnings that exceeded analysts’ estimates. Lafarge SA, the world’s biggest cement maker, soared 8.3 percent as operating income beat projections.
The Stoxx 600 climbed 0.6 percent to 265.93 at the close of trading as the benchmark measure climbed to its highest level since July 28. The gauge has gained 1.8 percent this week and 8.8 percent this year after the European Central Bank lent 489 billion euros ($643 billion) to euro-area banks at below-market interest rates.
“An agreement on Greece seems near,” said Benoit Peloille, equity market strategist at Natixis in Paris. “But I think the market mainly has been benefiting from the exceptional liquidity from the European Central Bank.”
Germany wants the currency area’s finance ministers to avoid separating the 130 billion-euro bailout for Greece from the planned bond swap with private creditors, officials from Europe’s largest economy said in a briefing to their country’s lawmakers. The finance chiefs of the 17 nations using the single currency meet on Feb. 20 in Brussels.
Finance Ministers’ Meeting
The Eurogroup meeting will probably approve the package and the debt exchange, three German officials involved in the telephone briefing yesterday said. A Finance Ministry spokesman declined to comment.
Three euro-area officials said that the ECB will swap its Greek bonds for new ones to ensure that it doesn’t take losses in a debt restructuring.
The bond exchange will only go ahead once governments authorize the European Financial Stability Facility to provide 30 billion euros, to be used in cash or collateral as an incentive to investors. The ECB plans to complete the transaction between Feb. 22 and March 9, the German lawmakers heard at the briefing.
A gauge of European banks advanced 1.4 percent making the biggest contribution to the Stoxx 600’s rally. Societe Generale, France’s second-largest lender, jumped 6.5 percent to 24.03 euros. Santander, Spain’s biggest bank, increased 2 percent to 6.41 euros. RBS climbed 3.2 percent to 27.6 pence and Barclays Plc added 1.4 percent to 248.35 pence. Banco Espirito Santo SA, Portugal’s largest bank, jumped 5.5 percent to 1.72 euros.
Greek Lenders Surge
Greece’s ASE Index rose 5 percent, for the biggest gain among western-European markets as the Mediterranean nation’s lenders advanced. Piraeus Bank SA rallied 14 percent to 64.2 euro cents. Alpha Bank SA surged 16 percent to 1.81 euros.
National benchmarks gained in every market except Norway. France’s CAC 40 Index and Germany’s DAX index both added 1.4 percent, while the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index rose 0.3 percent.
Anglo American climbed 1.1 percent to 2,674 pence after the producer of metals and minerals from Africa to Brazil said that underlying earnings increased to $5.06 a share in 2011 from $4.13 a share in 2010. That compared with a median estimate of $4.75 by 23 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.
Construction stocks rose 2.9 percent for the second-biggest gain among the 19 industry groups in the Stoxx 600. Lafarge jumped 8.3 percent to 34.46 euros, its largest rally since October, as the cement maker reported that fourth-quarter operating income excluding some items rose 3 percent, beating estimates. Smaller rival Holcim Ltd. increased 4.6 percent to 58.60 Swiss francs.
Persimmon, Berkeley Group
Persimmon Plc added 4.1 percent to 588 pence after the company was raised to “overweight” from “neutral” at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Berkeley Group Holdings Plc advanced 3.6 percent to 1,363 pence after the brokerage lifted its recommendation on the shares to “overweight” from “underweight.”
Aegon NV rallied 7 percent to 3.99 euros. The Dutch insurer, which owns Transamerica Corp., said it aims to increase underlying pretax profit by 7 percent to 10 percent a year on average until 2015 and to post a return on equity of 10 percent to 12 percent. The company also reported fourth-quarter net income of 79 million euros.
Oriflame Cosmetics SA surged 12 percent to 242.90 kronor after Chief Executive Officer Magnus Braennstroem said the company plans to “reverse the sales trend and return to growth with improved operating margin” in 2012. The Swedish makeup company reported fourth-quarter net income of 31.2 million euros, compared with the average analyst estimate of 31.1 million euros. The company will pay a dividend of 1.75 euros a share, higher than the estimate of 1.50 euros a share.
Aker Solutions Surges
Aker Solutions ASA soared 21 percent to 96 kroner for the biggest gain on the Stoxx 600. The oil-services company reported fourth-quarter net income of 675 million kroner ($118 million), beating the average analyst estimate of 347 million kroner. The company said it sees high demand for well-intervention services in 2012.
Finmeccanica SpA rallied 16 percent to 4.04 euros after winning a $1 billion order from the Israeli air force for combat-training jets.
Air Liquide SA slipped 2.8 percent to 95.75 euros after the world’s biggest producer of industrial gases reported 2011 earnings in line with analysts’ estimates, while sales growth slowed as the company cut costs.
--Editors: Will Hadfield, Andrew Rummer
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