European stocks rose, with gains for property companies offsetting a slump in miners, as the benchmark index ended the first quarter of the year at the highest level since December 2015.
The pound strengthened as investors piled back into the UK currency. This posed a drag on the multinational FTSE 100, which underperformed the other major European indices.
Sterling rose 0.6 per cent against the US dollar and climbed 0.4 per cent against the euro, although analysts suggested Brexit negotiations may trigger renewed downward pressure on the currency if no compromise is swiftly reached. Brent oil prices fell.
The Iseq index closed 0.6 per cent higher in Friday’s session, adding to a similar performance on Thursday, with major stocks CRH and Ryanair both advancing.
Ryanair closed up 1.6 per cent at €14.53, while the building materials group finished at €33.07, up 0.7 per cent. The two real estate investment trust stocks, Green Reit and Hibernia Reit, also made gains, with Green Reit up 1.6 per cent at €1.36. Hibernia Reit, which announced a new Dublin office letting at 1 Windmill Lane, climbed 2.1 per cent to €1.25.
Paddy Power Betfair was also among the gainers, closing back above €100 at €100.50, up 1.2 per cent. However, paper and packaging group Smurfit Kappa slid 2.3 per cent to €24.77.
Petroneft finished down just under 3 cent, having traded higher earlier in the afternoon. The exploration company, which operates in the Tomsk Oblast area of Russia, announced that it has reached agreement on a 2017 work programme with Oil India, its partner on one of the licences.
The FTSE 100 declined 0.6 per cent, as the pound’s rise weighed on the multinational stocks listed on the blue-chip index. Data from the Office for National Statistics confirmed fourth-quarter GDP growth at 0.7 per cent.
Mid-cap Entertainment One, the owner of Peppa Pig, surged more than 5 per cent to 244.6 pence as it announced rising revenues, driven by $200 million worth of merchandise sales from the popular children’s cartoon.
Media group ITV, which last year dropped plans to acquire Entertainment One, was the biggest riser on the FTSE 100, adding 3.5 per cent to close at 218.9 pence.
South African insurer Old Mutual was the biggest loser, dropping 7.5 per cent to just above 200 pence, after South African president Jacob Zuma sacked his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, sending the rand and government bonds lower.
On the FTSE 250, Investec, which also gets the majority of its revenues from South Africa, closed down almost 10 per cent.
Across Europe, the French Cac 40 and the German Dax rose 0.6 per cent and 0.4 per cent respectively, with the Dax zeroing in on its record high.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose 0.2 per cent at the close, widening its first-quarter advance to 5.5 per cent. The Stoxx 600 rose for a third consecutive quarter, its longest run since a streak of five quarterly gains in 2014.
The gauge also posted its best March performance since 2010, as easing concern over a win for France’s anti-euro candidate in the country’s upcoming elections boosted lenders.
Gains for Amazon kept the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq in positive territory in early trading on Friday, while a drop in Exxon weighed on the Dow Jones, as investors assessed their positions at the end of a strong quarter.
The S&P is on track to gain 5.7 per cent and the Dow 4.7 per cent for the quarter ending Friday, their biggest first-quarter gains in four years.
Energy lagged other sectors on Friday, with a 0.42 per cent decline, while the rest were little changed. A 2 per cent drop in Exxon Mobil’s shares caused the Dow to dip slightly. Amazon.com was the top stock on the S&P and the Nasdaq, with a 1.4 per cent gain.
(Additional reporting: Bloomberg / Reuters.)