By Julien Ponthus and Danilo Masoni
MILAN/LONDON (Reuters) - European shares scored a second straight month of gains in February after a choppy session on Thursday when optimism about European banks offset caution over U.S.-China trade.
After spending much of the day in the red, the pan-regional STOXX 600 index closed up 0.1 percent, in touching distance of four-month highs.
On a monthly basis, European shares rose 3.9 percent after a 6.2 percent increase in January.
Traders blamed the uncertainty over the outcome of the Sino-U.S. talks for the lack of a decisive directional trend.
“What we’re really waiting for, is more concrete news on trade”, said Mikael Jacoby, head of continental European Equity sales trading at Oddo Securities.
“We are in a status quo at the moment,” he added.
Miners were the biggest sectoral fallers, down 2.1 percent, as copper prices fell after surveys showed that factory activity in China shrank for the third straight month in February.
Milan scored the best performance among regional bourses with a 0.8 percent rise, helped by the weight of Italian banks in Italy’s FTSE MIB index.
The European banking index rose 0.95 percent amid hopes the European Central Bank (ECB) may embark in a new program to ease refinancing in the sector.
“The (ECB) March meeting will be the first to discuss this formally and we expect some signaling, if not a full announcement, of a TLTRO3 (Targeted Longer-Term Refinancing Operations) to be implemented by June,” analysts at Societe Generale wrote in a note.
Other winners of the day included media stocks which rose 1.4 percent.
Vivendi shares led rivals higher, up 5.4 percent, after sources told Reuters that U.S. buyout fund KKR and China’s Tencent Music Entertainment Group were exploring rival bids for up to half of its Universal Music division.
A promising outlook from Zalando drove shares in Europe’s biggest online-only fashion retailer to the top of the STOXX 600, up close to 24 percent.
AB InBev rose 4.1 percent, after the world’s largest brewer forecast strong revenue and profit growth in 2019, with a focus on increasing beer sales rather than just prices.
Sunrise was the biggest faller, down 8.5 percent after it agreed to buy Liberty Global’s Swiss unit in a 6.3 billion Swiss francs deal to create a bigger challenger to Swisscom.
European shares are up a bit more than 10 percent so far this year as global equities have recovered from a brutal sell-off in the last three months of 2018.
European shares could however quickly run out of steam and are expected to end 2019 roughly at their current level, a Reuters poll showed as some investor remain cautious.
“We’re carrying a bit of cash... I think things are still fragile, Q4 is still very fresh in people’s memories,” said Ian Ormiston, manager of the Europe ex-UK smaller companies fund at Merian Global Investors.
Reporting by Danilo Masoni and Helen Reid; editing by Josephine Mason and Andrew Heavens