* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 pct, starts month on positive note
* Spanish stocks fall as investors fret about Podemos
* Greek banking shares bounce; govt says won’t appoint execs
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, Feb 2 (Reuters) - European shares inched higher in early trading on Monday, starting the new month on a positive note following sharp gains in January, with Julius Baer rallying after unveiling a cost-cutting plan.
Madrid’s IBEX index lagged, however, falling 1.3 percent as investors fretted about the risks associated with the rising popularity of Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos.
On Saturday, tens of thousands marched in Madrid in the biggest show of support yet for Podemos, whose policies have drawn comparisons with the Syriza party that now governs Greece.
“The situation in Greece seems manageable from an investor’s point of view, given the size of the economy. But if the anti-austerity wave reaches Spain, that’s another story,” said Alexandre Baradez, chief market analyst at IG France.
“That’s why people are trimming exposure to Spain this morning, despite the relatively good PMI figures.”
Data showed on Monday Spain’s manufacturing sector expanded faster in January, as the recovery following years of on-off recession gained steam and helped create jobs at the strongest pace in over seven years.
For Germany, however, slower job creation and weaker demand from abroad dampened growth in the country’s manufacturing sector in January, in a somewhat sluggish start to the year for Europe’s largest economy.
Overall, euro zone factory activity grew slightly last month as companies kept slashing prices.
At 0909 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.1 percent at 1,466.62 points. The benchmark posted its best monthly performance in over three years in January, rising 7.1 percent.
Shares in the Zurich-based private bank Julius Baer rose 6.4 percent after it said it had launched a roughly 100 million Swiss franc ($108 million) cost savings programme in response to the recent appreciation of the Swiss currency.
Irish building supplies groups CRH gained 6 percent after it agreed to pay 6.5 billion euros ($7.4 billion) for assets that rivals Lafarge and Holcim needed to sell to secure regulatory approval for their planned merger.
Ryanair lost 3.7 percent, surrendering some of its recent strong gains. The airline raised its profit forecast for the third time in as many months on Monday as costs fell and traffic grew, but said profit growth would be modest next year as rivals’ cheaper fuel push fares down.
Greek shares continued to recover, with Athens’s benchmark ATG up 5.7 percent, helped by a rally in bank stocks bouncing off record lows hit last week after a leftist government opposed to austerity measures took office.
A spokesman said on Monday the Greek government would not take any action that would hurt the share values of the country’s banks and did not plan to appoint party officials at key management posts.
Eurobank was up 18 percent while National Bank of Greece gained 11 percent. Athens’s ATG index is still down 9.2 percent since Syriza was elected little over a week ago.
Today’s European research round-up
editing by John Stonestreet