Robust factory data, M&A help Europe stocks extend rally
* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.7 pct, sixth positive session in row
* French, U.S. manufacturing data help boost sentiment
* All eyes on ECB meeting in wake of Weidmann comments
* Still negative earnings momentum seen as 'red flag'
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, April 1 (Reuters) - European stocks rose on Tuesday, with a blue-chip index hitting a 5-1/2 year high, helped by M&A fever as well as robust French and U.S. factory data.
French stocks outperformed the broad market, with the CAC 40 index surging 1.1 percent, after data showed France's manufacturing sector emerging from a long decline to grow even more strongly in March than initially estimated.
Overall, data showed growth in euro zone manufacturing eased slightly as expected, but the broad rise in output made the bloc's economic recovery look more entrenched, fuelling hopes of a long-awaited rebound in corporate profits.
In a similar picture from the other side of the Atlantic, U.S. manufacturing activity slowed in March from a near-four-year high in the previous month, but the pace of growth and hiring remained brisk. Continuación...