March 26, 2014 / 9:37 AM / 5 years ago

European shares advance, led by Standard Life

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.6 percent

* Standard Life gains on Ignis acquisition

* Analysts see equity markets trapped in range

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Wednesday, led by UK insurer Standard Life on acquisition news, with broader sentiment buoyed by stronger U.S. data as well as optimism over possible stimulus measures from the European Central Bank and China.

Standard Life advanced 5.2 percent after it bought Ignis Asset Management for 390 million pounds ($643.7 million) - a week after the British finance minister overhauled the country’s pensions and savings industry.

“The move is strategic and absolutely necessary to diversify their overall business away from their traditional pensions and life insurance area in light of the bombshell news announced from the 2014 UK budget on how pensions are handled,” said Jordan Hiscott, senior sales trader at Gekko Global Markets.

Hiscott’s six-month target price for the company is 437 pence, its May 2013 peak.

Trading volume in Standard Life was robust, at half of its 90-day daily average after just over an hour’s trade, against a quarter seen on the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300.

The FTSEurofirst 300 was up 0.6 percent at 1,319.06 points by 0915 GMT, taking its cue from Asian and U.S. trade, where buoyant U.S. consumer confidence and house prices helped to fuel gains.

The prospect of stimulus measures from the European Central Bank came back into focus after ECB governing council member Jens Weidmann on Tuesday said the ECB was not ruling out buying loans and other assets from banks to support the euro zone.

Growing bets that China would further stimulate its economy also helped underpin market gains, although analysts noted that the country had limited scope to provide further monetary stimulus, and that going for more growth could lead to problems.

“If you’re worried about your real estate sector or your banking sector, the last thing you’re going to be wanting to do is lower the reserve requirements on that sector. But having said that, the market believes it,” CMC Markets senior market analyst Michael Hewson said.

Nevertheless, analysts reckoned that the FTSEurofirst 300 will remain range-bound. It has been trading between around 1,263 and 1,353 since the start of the year.

“That up and down pattern does seem to be the way it’s going to be this year. The valuations get to the top of that channel, they run into a little bit of profit taking ... (and then) there still seems to be some buying interest,” Peel Hunt equity strategist Ian Williams said.

“I think that might continue for a bit longer until the earnings support seems to get a bit more solid which of course isn’t happening yet.”

Europe bourses in 2014:

Asset performance in 2014:

Today’s European research round-up ($1 = 0.6059 British Pounds) (Additional reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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