* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.7 pct, at new 7-yr high
* Greek shares fall; Syriza gains momentum
* SAP stock drops after group trims outlook
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, Jan 20 (Reuters) - European shares touched new seven-year highs on Tuesday after data showed China’s economic growth slowed less than feared and on expectations the European Central Bank will launch a quantitative easing programme later this week.
Danish enzyme maker Novozymes featured among the top gainers, surging 5.1 percent, with traders citing a new buyback programme as one of the catalysts for the stock’s rally.
Overall, Danish stocks underperformed slightly, with the OMX Copenhagen 20 index up 0.2 percent. Denmark’s central bank cut its certificate of deposit and lending rates by 0.15 percentage points, deeper into negative territory, on Monday to stop the crown currency strengthening after the Swiss franc’s cap to the euro was scrapped last week.
At 0910 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.7 percent at 1,419.33 points, topping Monday’s seven-year high.
China’s economy grew 7.4 percent in 2014, its slowest pace in 24 years and barely missing the country’s official 7.5 percent target. But the data was seen as a relief for investors, who had feared a sharper slowdown.
“Growth in the last quarter of 2014 shows some nice resilience, 7.3 percent versus expectations of 7.2 percent, which shows that our scenario of a soft landing is quite close to reality,” said John Plassard, senior equity sales trader at Mirabaud Securities in Geneva.
Philips gained 4.1 percent, lifted by a report saying private equity groups have signalled interest in the group’s lighting division.
Shares in Unilever bucked the trend, falling 1.7 percent after the consumer goods major posted lower-than-expected fourth-quarter underlying sales growth due to weak emerging markets.
SAP also dropped after Europe’s largest software firm cut its 2017 operating profit outlook.
Around Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 index was up 0.5 percent and Germany’s DAX index was 0.3 percent higher, trimming gains after hitting another record high earlier in the session. France’s CAC 40 was up 0.5 percent.
The market was also supported by broad expectations the European Central Bank is set to unveil a programme to print money and buy bonds when it meets on Thursday to try and revive the euro zone economy and inflation.
“I don’t think Draghi will disappoint on Thursday. The central bank’s credibility is at stake, and this will be a crucial moment for the ECB,” said Alain Bokobza, head of strategy, global asset allocation at Societe Generale.
“The quantitative easing programme will continue to pull down the euro. With a currency falling to $1.15 from $1.55 and the injection of 1 trillion euros, I don’t see how the euro zone economy won’t recover.”
Greek stocks lost ground again, with Athens’s ATG down 0.7 percent. Anti-bailout opposition party Syriza appears to be gaining momentum with less than a week before Sunday’s election, moving further ahead of the conservatives that lead the coalition government in two separate opinion polls.
Today’s European research round-up
Editing by Susan Fenton