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Shares in Europe gained in the first quarter of 2011, outperforming Asian equities and shrugging off events in Libya and Japan.In the three-month period, Britain’s FTSE 100 logged a relatively sedate performance, advancing just above the break-even line, while France’s CAC and Germany’s DAX climbed 2%-3%.
Economic data released in February showed the single-currency Eurozone grew 0.2% in the fourth quarter of 2010 even as some countries remained mired in negative growth, though analysts said a slow but sure recovery was under way.
The European Banking Authority, a new banking watchdog created in 2011, said it was launching a new set of “stress tests” for banks to see how they would hold up during times of “shock,” in a bid to boost investor confidence. But details of the test leaked to the media and were widely seen as being lax.
Throughout the quarter, agencies downgraded sovereign ratings of several indebted nations, including Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. However, the euro gained 6.5% versus the U.S. dollar in the three-month period, shrugging off persistent debt concerns, and in anticipation that the European Central Bank would hike interest rates in April.
Financials rose across the sector in the first quarter: Barclays, Credit Agricole, and Société Générale each tacked on over 9%.
In oil stocks, BG Group surged 20.2% while Total rose about 7% as crude prices jumped 23% on news of political unrest in Libya and the subsequent conflict between Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and those seeking his ouster.
Resource stocks turned in a sedate performance with miner BHP Billiton losing 0.7% while peers Rio Tinto and Xstrata remained flat.