* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.9 pct, bounces from 3-week slide
* Relief at passage of Crimea referendum without violence
* Robust U.S. manufacturing data helps boost sentiment
* Peripheral euro zone equities sustain outperformance
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.
At 1455 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.9 percent at 1,295.53 points, after dropping 5 percent since late February.
Shares from the mining and industrial sectors featured among the biggest gainers, with BHP Billiton up 2 percent and ArcelorMittal up 2.2 percent, while Siemens rose 3.8 percent, helped in part by rating upgrades from both JP Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Investor sentiment was boosted 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 some relief.
But this could be short-lived, some said, with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday unveiling sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for Russia’s military incursion into Crimea, while the European Union was also set to impose measures including asset freezes and travel bans on 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine.
A senior U.S. official warned that Russia could face additional sanctions if it proceeds with formal annexation of the Crimea region, or takes further military action in Ukraine.
“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,” said Dennis Jose, European equity strategist at Barclays.
Around Europe, UK’s FTSE 100 index was up 0.8 percent, Germany’s DAX index up 1.1 percent, and France’s CAC 40 up 1 percent.
Smaller euro zone peripheral markets outperformed again, with Italy’s FTSE MIB index up 1.6 percent and Portugal’s PSI20 up 1.9 percent.
So far this year, the MIB is up about 9 percent and the PSI 20 is up 14 percent, strongly outpacing the FTSEurofirst 300 which is down 1.5 percent over the same period, as investors bet that some of the economies worst hit by the euro debt crisis can now 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 were up 2.9 percent on Monday, after the company’s chief hinted at a potential increase of its share buyback programme.
German business software maker SAP added 2 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