* STOXX 600 up 0.3 pct
* Euro zone factory activity hits 6-year high
* Hexpol sinks as Kepler cuts to hold
* Ocado jumps on M&S delivery tie-up report
* Flows recovering at Aberdeen (ADVISORY- Follow European and UK stock markets in real time on the Reuters Live Markets blog on Eikon - see cpurl://apps.cp./cms/?pageId=livemarkets)
By Helen Reid
LONDON, May 2 (Reuters) - European shares kicked off the first trading day of May with gains underpinned by healthy corporate earnings, and manufacturing data adding to evidence of a robust underlying economy in the region.
Financials and energy stocks provided the biggest boost to the pan-European STOXX 600 which was up 0.2 percent. French bluechips held near decade highs while Germany’s DAX hovered near a record.
With about a third of the MSCI Europe having reported first-quarter results, corporate profit growth in the region was running neck-and-neck with the healthy clip seen in the U.S. Overall, for the first quarter earnings in Europe are expected to grow 13.9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Brokers were watching the first-quarter results season as a crucial factor in their argument for European equities’ outperformance.
Euro zone factory activity hit a six-year high in April, a PMI survey showed, as demand remained strong despite rising prices.
This added to a series of data points indicating the economic backdrop for European corporates was improving.
“The economy is doing better within Europe, but these also tend to be global companies,” said Isabelle Mateos Y Lago, chief multi-asset strategist at Blackrock.
“The main reason why we are optimistic is because European companies are extremely well plugged in to benefit from the global reflation story, from China and US growth picking up.”
British oil major BP gained 2.9 percent after its first-quarter profits tripled, thanks to higher oil prices and production.
It fuelled a 0.5 percent rise in Europe’s oil and gas sector index, which handily outperformed other sectors. Banks were up 0.3 percent.
Fund manager Aberdeen gained 2.9 percent after its first-half results added to signs of fight back from active fund managers against the passive tracker funds eroding their market share.
The pace of outflows from Aberdeen’s funds slowed slightly and revenues rose 10.6 percent thanks to market gains and cost cuts.
Shares in online food delivery company Ocado jumped up to 8.9 percent. Traders cited a report of a delivery tie-up with supermarket M&S. Ocado’s shares are among the most-heavily shorted in the UK.
Swiss materials company OC Oerlikon gained 2.9 percent after it raised its targets for sales and orders for 2017, reporting a strong first quarter.
Among fallers, Swedish polymer producer Hexpol dropped 7.8 percent after broker Kepler Cheuvreux cut the stock to ‘hold’ from ‘buy’, saying that following a recent rally the company’s shares now reflected expected growth.
Kepler analysts were still relatively positive on the company, saying strong cash flow and balance sheet leave room for acquisitions to drive growth.
Airport retailer Dufry slipped 3 percent after its results. The company reported first-quarter organic growth of 7.2 percent, but traders cited weaker than expected earnings and cash flow.
Jyske Bank underperformed Europe’s financials, down 3 percent after the Danish bank posted first-quarter results with weaker net interest income and capital ratio. It was trading in heavy volume, and set for its worst day in six months. (Reporting by Helen Reid, Editing by Vikram Subhedar and Ed Osmond)