* FTSEurofirst 300 index closes 0.06 percent higher
* Pan-European index recovers after Philadelphia data
* Reuters poll shows analyst bullish on longer-term outlook
By Atul Prakash
LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - European shares recouped early losses to finish steady on Thursday after data showing robust factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region raised expectations that U.S. economic recovery remained on track.
After falling as much as 1 percent earlier on concerns about an earlier-than-expected rise in U.S. rates, the FTSEurofirst 300 index ended 0.06 percent higher at 1,305.87 points, helped by data from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank showing its business activity index rose to 9.0 in March from -6.3 in February.
Some insurers, including AXA and Aegon, were seen benefiting from the shift in the interest rate outlook and rose 3.9 percent and 4.2 percent respectively.
Among other risers, French aerospace and defence supplier Zodiac Aerospace gained 5.4 percent to sit at the top of FTSEurofirst 300. It said on Wednesday it was ready to make new acquisitions after posting a 9.2 percent rise in revenue for the first six months of its financial year.
“The worst-case scenario for the global market right now is a soft patch in the United States, but the Philadelphia data supports the idea that we haven’t got one and recent weaker U.S. economic numbers are weather-related,” Graham Bishop, senior equity strategist at Exane BNP Paribas, said.
Sentiment was also boosted by data showing the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits held near three-month lows last week.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday harsh weather had played an important role in the economy’s weakness, but announced further cuts to its bond-buying and suggested the programme could end this fall, with interest rates rising around six months later.
Her comments put pressure on global stocks, with European equities slipping in the morning session before recovering on the U.S. economic numbers. However, investors remained cautious about the market’s outlook in the near-term.
“What makes investors nervous is that it sounds risky for the Fed to unveil a calendar when macro and micro signals are still quite mixed,” said David Thebault, head of quantitative sales trading at Global Equities.
Around Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 index was down 0.5 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 0.2 percent and France’s CAC-40 was up 0.5 percent.
European equities have been volatile this month on geopolitical tensions related to Ukraine and concerns about a slowdown in Chinese economic growth, but analysts remained bullish on the market’s longer-term outlook.
A Reuters poll of 37 fund managers and strategists predicted the pan-European STOXX Europe 600 index to add almost 8 percent by the end of this year to a six-year high. The euro zone’s blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index was expected to add around 6 percent to hit a 5-1/2-year high.
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pad95v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/rav46v
Today’s European research round-up (Additional reporting by Blaise Robinson in Paris; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)