LONDON (CNNfn) - European investors went on an end-of-week buying spree Friday amid the release of eagerly awaited U.S. jobs data that dampened investors' fears the U.S. economy may be overheating enough to justify a hike in interest rates.
Rate-related tremors rumbled through Europe's bourses all week, though the Bank of England and the European Central Bank ultimately surprised few traders by deciding to let their key lending rates stand at 5.5 percent and 3 percent, respectively. But the prospect of U.S. monetary tightening cast a pall, even as strong banking and oil stocks buoyed many bourses.
In London, the FTSE 100 surged 104.1 points, or 1.71 percent, to 6,205.5, just over 100 points shy of its all-time peak of 6,307.6, set Feb. 24. Banks blitzed a blazing trail, capturing the top-three spots on the gainer list.
Royal Bank of Scotland (RBOS) shot up 6.76 percent to 1,277 pence in London. HSBC (HSBA) surged nearly 6 percent, while National Westminster Bank (NWB) leapt 5.08 percent.
In Frankfurt, Germany's electronically-traded Xetra Dax steamrolled ahead, finishing 2.5 percent higher at 4,840.81 amid the welcome U.S. jobs data. The rise came despite a fresh batch of economic data showing Germany's producer price index fell 0.5 percent month-to-month in January. The index was down 2.3 percent from a year earlier.
Engineering colossus Siemens powered its way to a 4.77 percent higher close at 59.65 euros, adding to Thursday's more than 6 percent gain after a newspaper reported the company plans to invest $1.67 billion in a U.S. data networking venture. Siemens has declined to comment on the New York Times report pending a news conference in New York Monday.
Paris shares ended up 2.48 percent, or 101.57 points, at 4,189.56 on the CAC 40. The index climbed just over 2.5 percent for the week.
In Zurich, the Swiss Market Index closed 1.5 percent higher at 7,213.3, bootstrapped by strong gains in pharmaceutical giant Novartis, which rose 3 percent amid a new medical study suggesting its Exelon drug is effective in treating Alzheimer's. Novartis shares added 73 francs to 2,599.
In the financial sector, Dutch banking heavyweight ABN Amro revealed it will take an 8.7 percent stake in Italy's Banco di Roma. In Amsterdam, ABN shares gained 1.68 percent to close at 18.20 euros; Banco di Roma stock eased more than 1 percent to 1.3810 euros.
Shares of Lagardère (PMMB) rose 2.41 percent to 34 euros in Paris after a French newspaper reported the conglomerate may sell its 97 percent stake in Giraudy, an outdoor advertising firm, to Germany's Deutsche Bank (FDBK) for 1.4 billion francs ($231.7 million).
Deutsche shares edged up 1.75 euros to 48.05 in Frankfurt.
Germany's major chemical stocks ended in the plus column Friday despite a report from the chemical employers association showing a 6.2 percent drop in German chemical production in the final quarter of 1998.
Hoechst (FHOE) rose 2.65 euros to 40.50, while Bayer (FBAY) inched up 0.10 euros to 31.80. Analysts are expecting both companies to take a hit from shrinking global demand and prices when they roll out their full-year earnings next Tuesday, Reuters reported.
Bank of Scotland (BSCT) finished the week 2.68 percent higher at 898-1/2 pence. The bank announced plans Tuesday to ally with American televangelist Pat Robertson to launch direct banking services in the U.S.
French telecom firm Alcatel (PCGE) finished 5.18 percent higher at 1119.8 euros Friday, wrapping up a week in which the company announced two major acquisitions. Carmaker Peugeot (PUG) rocketed 6.45 percent to 128.8 euros in Paris, making it the second-biggest gainer on the CAC 40 after Thomson-CSF (PHO), which vaulted nearly 10 percent.
Renault (PRNO) rose 2.89 percent to 37 euros. Earlier in the week the carmaker reported a profit surge of 63 percent but warned of a bumpy ride ahead as the global auto sector weakens.
On the trade front, tensions escalated Friday in a brewing European dispute with the U.S. over banana imports. European Union Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan told CNN the U.S. is acting like a "rogue state" for slapping levies on a range of EU imports before the World Trade Organization had ruled on the issue.
The dispute comes against a backdrop of steady declines for the new common currency, the euro, which slipped below $1.09 this week. That marked a more than 7 percent drop since the currency's launch in early January.
-- from staff and wire reports