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European stocks were little changed, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index at a six-year high, as a rally in ASML Holding NV offset a decline in ABB Ltd.
The Stoxx 600 added 0.1 percent to 336.06 at the close of trading, its highest level since January 2008. The benchmark gauge has gained 2.4 percent so far this year as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund raised their forecasts for global growth.
In the U.K., data from the Office for National Statistics showed that unemployment measured by International Labour Organization methods fell to 7.1 percent in the three months through November.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee doesn’t see any immediate need to raise interest rates even if unemployment declines to the 7 percent threshold for considering tightening, according to minutes of the Jan. 8-9 meeting published today. MPC officials said cost pressures remained subdued and economic growth faced continuing headwinds.
National benchmark indexes fell in 10 of the 18 western European markets. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent, Germany’s DAX lost 0.1 percent, while France’s CAC 40 climbed less than 0.1 percent.
ASML rallied 7 percent to 67.51 euros after saying it will increase its 2013 dividend by 15 percent. Europe’s largest semiconductor-equipment supplier will pay 61 euro cents a share, up from 53 euro cents a year earlier.
Rautaruukki rallied 33 percent, its biggest gain since at least 1992, to 9.17 euros after SSAB offered to buy the Finnish steelmaker in a stock swap worth 10.1 billion kronor ($1.56 billion). SSAB, a Swedish steelmaker, surged 12 percent to 54.35 kronor.
For each Rautaruukki share, shareholders will get 0.4752 newly issued SSAB class A shares and 1.2131 new class B shares. The offer represents a premium for Rautaruukki shareholders of 20 percent, based on the closing prices of the company’s and SSAB’s shares on Jan. 21.
Sage Group Plc climbed 3.3 percent to 426.9 pence after the software-publishing company said it expects to meet its target of 6 percent growth in so-called organic revenue in 2015.
ABB dropped 3.6 percent to 23.34 Swiss francs after saying it will book $260 million in charges because of “operational issues” at its Power Systems division and delays to offshore wind projects. “This means we will not be able to deliver our profitability target for the division in the quarter,” Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Spiesshofer said in a statement.
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