* FTSEurofirst 300 rises 0.9 percent
* HSBC falls after results
* Prudential suspended amid deal; other insurers mixed
By Brian Gorman
LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) – European shares were higher in early trade on Monday, the first day of the month, with miners rising after copper supplies were disrupted by an earthquake in Chile, and amid mergers in the drugs and insurance sectors.
At 0914 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top European shares was up 0.9 percent at 1,016.56 points.
The European benchmark fell 0.4 percent in February, and is down more than 5 percent from a 15-month peak it hit in January, partly on worries over Greece’s debt. But it is up more than 57 percent from its lifetime low of March 9, 2009.
Miners gained after copper prices MCU3=LX rose following disruption to supplies following an earthquake in Chile. Gold and silver were also higher.
Antofagasta (ANTO.L), BHP Billiton (BLT.L), Fresnillo (FRES.L), Kazakhmys (KAZ.L) and Rio Tinto (RIO.L) rose between 1.9 and 4 percent.
Oils also rose, as the price of crude CLc1 topped $80 a barrel, amid worries that Iran might cut off energy supplies in Europe. [ID:nSGE62004B]
Total (TOTF.PA), ENI (ENI.MI), BP (BP.L), BG (BG.L), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), Repsol (REP.MC) and StatoilHydro (STL.OL) rose between 1.1 and 1.8 percent.
Banking giant HSBC (HSBA.L) fell 3 percent, after it missed expectations with a $7.1 billion annual pretax profit, as accounting losses masked record investment bank earnings, and a late year slowdown in bad debts at its troubled U.S. business. [ID:nLDE6200IU]
However, the sector was generally higher.
BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA), Banco Santander (SAN.MC), Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX), Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) and Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) rose between 1.6 and 2.3 percent.
Prudential (PRU.L) shares were suspended after it said it is in talks to buy American International Group’s (AIG.N) Asian life insurance unit. Reports put the price tag at about $35.5 billion, and it would see Prudential launch a $20 billion rights issue. [ID:nLDE6200CL]
Other insurers were mixed, with UK companies Aviva (AV.L) and Legal & General (LGEN.L) down 2 and 1.4 percent respectively.
Allianz (ALVG.DE) and AXA (AXAF.PA) were up 0.6 and 0.9 percent respectively.
“Trading today will be dominated by the HSBC and Pru news,” said Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management
“There’s nothing to pull the market much higher. The shadow of Greece is still there.”
Across Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE, France’s CAC 40 .FCHI and Germany’s DAX .GDAXI were up between 0.9 and 1.5 percent.
Among other individual companies, Germany’s Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE) fell 1 percent after it agreed to buy U.S. biotech tool maker Millipore Corp (MIL.N) for around $6 billion in cash [ID:nLDE61R0MJ] But most of the drugs sector rose. Novartis (NOVN.VX), Shire (SHP.L), AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA) rose between 0.8 and 1.2 percent.
However, Actelion (ATLN.VX) plunged 13.5 percent after its most important drug, Tracleer, suffered a severe setback, failing to help reduce mortality in patients suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.[ID:nLDE62004L]
Europe’s largest entertainment group Vivendi (VIV.PA) rose 3.5 percent after it posted better-than-expected sales and operating profit for 2009, boosted by a buoyant performance at its games and telecoms divisions. [ID:nLDE61P1N3]
In macroeconomics, a rise in new orders helped German manufacturing activity expand in February at its fastest rate since June 2007, a survey showed. [ID:nLAG006138]
Greece may soon announce new steps to cut its budget deficit, a government minister said on Sunday, amid signs that Athens might be nearing a deal with European Union governments to ease the Greek debt crisis. [ID:nLDE61R0BX]
Investors’ attention will turn later to the United States, where data is due on manufacturing and personal consumption and income. (Editing by Rupert Winchester)