European shares hit seven-year highs as ECB unveils QE

Reuters , Thursday 22 Jan 2015

European stocks hit seven-year highs on Thursday after the European Central Bank unveiled a bond-buying scheme in a bid to revive the region's economy and stave off deflation.

ECB President Mario Draghi said the central bank would embark on a quantitative easing programme which, together with existing schemes, will pump 60 billion euros a month into the euro zone economy from this March until September next year.

"The size of the programme comes at the high end of what the market had been expecting, so it's quite a positive surprise," said Jeanne Asseraf-Bitton, head of global cross-asset research at Lyxor Asset Management.

"Now, all eyes will be on the euro zone inflation expectations, that's where we'll see if the programme is a success or not."

At 1450 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.8 percent at 1,442.53, a level not seen since early 2008.

Germany's DAX was up 0.3 percent after hitting a record high, while Italy's MIB index was up 1.2 percent and Spain's IBEX was up 1.1 percent.

The news sent the euro currency to an 11-year low against the dollar, at $1.1455. The recent drop in the euro is seen as a major positive catalyst for

European corporate earnings this year, particularly for exporters in sectors such as aerospace.

Euro zone banking stocks featured among the top gainers on Thursday, with Raiffeisen Bank International rising 4.2 percent, Societe Generale up 2.3 percent and Commerzbank up 2.4 percent.

The ECB programme aims to buoy the flagging euro zone economy, where inflation has fallen to minus 0.2 percent, far below the central bank's target of just under 2 percent.

Despite the market's positive reaction to the ECB plan, some fund managers and analysts raised doubts about its chance of success.

"I still believe that this will have little real impact on the euro zone economy as government bond yields are already at rock-bottom and investment-grade corporate bond yields in Europe are on average 1 percent or below," said Edmund Shing, global equity fund manager at BCS Asset Management.

"Automakers should benefit and certain aerospace companies like Safran and Zodiac are obvious beneficiaries too. However, the real question is whether lending to euro zone small- and medium-sized companies will take off in the next six months, given that we have QE and given that the ECB's bank capital adequacy tests are now passed."

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