* Pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.3 pct
* The index set for best quarter since 2009
* A.P. MOLLER-MAERSK down 10 pct on dividend pay
By Atul Prakash
LONDON, March 31 (Reuters) - European shares extended gains on Tuesday and headed for their best quarterly performance in several years, with Kingfisher leading the market higher after announcing it planned to sell about 60 B&Q stores in Britain.
Shares in Europe’s biggest home-improvement retailer were up nearly 5 percent after it said it would close the stores, part of new Chief Executive Veronique Laury’s plan to shake up the group.
“The new Chief Executive’s transformation plan sounds promising, and these results underline why it is necessary. The reaction to the company’s ambitious plans has been positive in early trade and adds to the company’s recent share price rise,” said Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index was up 0.3 percent at 1,600.74 points by 0751 GMT. It rose 1.2 percent on Monday and traded near a recent 7 1/2-year high of 1,613.80 points reached earlier in March. France’s CAC was up 0.2 percent.
The FTSEurofirst 300 and the CAC, up 17 percent and 19 percent respectively since the start of the year, headed for their best quarter since the third quarter of 2009. The European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme and the region’s improved economic outlook helped boost the indexes.
“Quantitative easing in Europe has been the surprising positive in the first quarter, thanks to its huge size and the timing. The move, although much later than other regions, has finally been started because the euro zone has failed to ignite its engines of growth,” said Lorne Baring, managing director, B Capital Wealth Management in Geneva.
“The question is whether being a late starter has left the ECB and Europe too far behind and too close to deflation. The next two quarters will be key to understanding if Europe can scrape past and start to accelerate.”
Germany’s benchmark DAX index has risen 23 percent this year, its best quarter since the April-June period of 2003. However, the index was down 0.1 percent on Tuesday, after data showed German retail sales fell in February from January for the first time since September.
Shares in A.P. MOLLER-MAERSK fell 10 percent after the Danish company decided at its annual general meeting on Monday to pay an ordinary dividend of 300 crowns per share and an extraordinary dividend of 1,671 crowns per share, amounting to 42.4 billion crowns.
Bank of Ireland fell 5.7 percent after Canada’s Fairfax Financial Holdings sold a 2.9 percent stake in the bank at 36 euro cents per share, a source familiar with the transaction said. (Editing by Larry King)