Data Lift European Shares to Six-Month High

European share prices edged up on Friday to hit a new six-month high, helped by encouraging macroeconomic data in the euro zone and the UK, and as investors awaited the latest U.S. employment figures, due at 1330 GMT.

At 0958 GMT the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.2 percent at 1,062.00 points, and had hit a high of 1,062.88, a level not seen since early August.

The index is up more than 24 percent from the 2011 low it hit in September.

U.S. employment growth is thought by analysts to have cooled in January but the jobless rate is seen holding at a near three-year low, consolidating a recent improvement in the labour market. Non-farm payrolls rose by an estimated 150,000, according to a Reuters survey, after jumping by 200,000 in December.

"The rally's been going for a while, so it's possible we'll see a sell-off if (the number of additional jobs) misses expectations, but if it doesn't miss too much, it will be a muted reaction," said Chris Beauchamp, analyst at IG Index.

"If nothing happens on Greece, that could also push the market lower."

Investors have been encouraged by upbeat economic growth data, though it has come mostly from the United States and Asia, rather than Europe.

However, data on Friday showed that the euro zone's private sector economy snapped a four-month decline in January and expanded, albeit very weakly, according to a business survey that hinted the euro zone may avoid recession.

Britain's dominant services sector expanded at the fastest pace in 10 months in January.

Investors have become more confident of a debt swap deal involving Greece and its private sector creditors, and that the country can avoid a disastrous default.

Banks, many of which have exposure to peripheral euro zone sovereign debt and have taken hits on their balance sheets following the long-running euro zone debt crisis, were among the gainers.

The STOXX Europe 600 Banking Index rose 1.2 percent.

Those rising in the heavyweight sector included BNP Paribas and Societe Generale, up 3.9 and 1.7 percent respectively.

"Markets are taking cheer that America is improving. Companies are strong, but they don't yet have the confidence to invest," said Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management.

"We've seen a slow recovery in sentiment, but sentiment is now reaching the stage where they are assuming (euro zone issues) are being resolved but they're only making some progress with the symptoms."


Among individual companies, BT rose 3.6 percent as lower regulatory charges, cost cuts and strong demand for a wide range of services enabled the telecoms company to post solid third-quarter core earnings and lift aspects of its forecasts.

But nearly two thirds of the European companies that have reported quarterly results so far have missed forecasts, a sharp contrast with companies in the United States, where only one-third of the firms have disappointed.

So far in the European earnings season, 20 percent of the STOXX 600 companies have reported results, and 57 percent of them have missed forecasts