Will Renzi still be laughing on Monday? Getty Images

European stocks hit a new multi-year high

May 28, 2014

FORTUNE -- European stocks hit a new multi-year high, and Japanese stocks hit a seven-week high Tuesday as investors focused on the positives from elections across Europe over the weekend.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index hit a new six-year high of 344.74, before falling back later, while the Nikkei closed at 14,636.52, up 0.2% on the day and its fourth successive gain.

Talk of a bid for InterContinental Hotels Group PLC (ihg), the operator of such chains as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, has encouraged a fresh wave of M&A related optimism, despite the collapse of Pfizer's bid for U.K.-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca PLC (azn). French hotel operator Accor SA (acrff) also said it would buy back some hotels that it had sold previously.

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In Europe, the clear victory for Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine's presidential elections on Sunday has also boosted hopes of a speedy end to the crisis there -- despite intense fighting over the last couple of days around Donetsk airport in which over 40 people have been killed, according to media reports.

The Social Democrats of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi emerged as clear winners of the poll in Italy with a thumping 34.5% of the vote, while the Five Stars protest movement of ex-comedian Beppe Grillo managed only 25.5%, well short of expectations. The Italian MIB index was up 0.1% by 9:00 AM EDT, after rising 3.6% on Monday.

Markets are also still enjoying some support from the strong showing of government parties in Germany and, crucially, Italy in elections to the European parliament. The Italian result is important because Italy, which accounts for 17% of the eurozone’s economy, remains one of its most obvious weak spots, with high government debt, record unemployment, and chronic political instability. Recent data showed that the economy contracted again in the first quarter after emerging from recession at the end of last year.

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In Germany, meanwhile, although the anti-euro Alternative fuer Deutschland party won seats in the parliament with 7% of the vote, it was the Christian Democrats of Chancellor Angela Merkel who emerged as the clear winner with 35.3%. Merkel has been the driving force behind the policy of conditional aid for stressed eurozone countries that has just about kept the 18-country currency zone together over the last four years.

Markets have given less attention to the surge in support for anti-EU parties in the U.K. and France, although the French benchmark index has limped behind the rest of the continent since the weekend, losing 0.1% Tuesday morning in Europe.

“France is the reform laggard in Europe. Its mainstream parties were certainly not rewarded for their past refusal to bite the bullet of unpopular reforms,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist with Berenberg Bank in London.

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