* FTSEurofirst 300 up 1 pct, Euro STOXX 50 up 1.5 pct
* Relief at passage of Crimea referendum without violence
* Robust U.S. manufacturing data helps boost sentiment
* Peripheral euro zone equities further outperform
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, March 17 (Reuters) - European stocks rose on Monday, bouncing back from a three-week slide, helped by robust U.S. manufacturing data and after Crimea’s vote to join Russia passed without violence.
Shares from the mining and industrial sectors featured among the biggest gainers, with Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine adding 5.6 percent, boosted in part by an upbeat research note from Credit Suisse analysts, while Germany’s Siemens rose 3.4 percent following rating upgrades from both JP Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Investor sentiment was lifted by U.S. manufacturing output rebounding more than expected last month, posting its biggest increase in six months.
The relatively peaceful referendum held in Crimea on Sunday, for which the peninsula’s leaders declared a 97-percent result in favour of seceding from Ukraine, also brought relief.
But this could be short-lived, some said, with both the United States and the European Union imposing sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans on a small group of officials from Russia and Ukraine, and U.S. President Barack Obama warning of possible further sanctions.
“If we do see sanctions, that could lead to an increase in energy prices, which could be negative for the consumer in Europe and affect the top line of companies that depend on them,” Dennis Jose, European equity strategist at Barclays, said.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended 1 percent higher at 1,297.45 points, rising for only the second time in seven sessions.
The benchmark index, which has been losing ground for the past three weeks, is down 4.1 percent since late February.
Around Europe, UK’s FTSE 100 index rose 0.6 percent, Germany’s DAX index gained 1.4 percent, and France’s CAC 40 added 1.3 percent.
Smaller euro zone peripheral markets outperformed again, with Italy’s FTSE MIB index up 2.5 percent and Portugal’s PSI20 up 1.8 percent.
So far this year, the MIB is up about 10 percent and the PSI 20 is up 13.6 percent, strongly outpacing the FTSEurofirst 300 which is down 1.4 percent over the same period, as investors bet that some of the economies worst hit by the euro debt crisis are set to recover from prolonged recession.
“In my opinion, the MIB, IBEX and CAC 40 are the best place to invest in 2014. There’s a big catch-up potential following years of underperformance,” said Riccardo Designori, market analyst at Brown Editore, in Milan.
“We will probably see further volatility in the coming weeks due to the situation in Ukraine, but the bottom line is: the bond market is not a good place to be, and U.S. stocks are at a historical top. Meanwhile in Europe, the economy is just starting to recover.”
Shares in German chip maker Infineon gained 3.4 percent on Monday, after the company’s chief hinted at a potential increase of its share buyback programme, while German business software maker SAP added 2.3 percent, with traders citing an upgrade of the stock by Citigroup to “buy” from “neutral” on the back of an expected recovery in the company’s German business.
Europe bourses in 2014:
Asset performance in 2014:
Today’s European research round-up