* FTSEurofirst flat around 1,134.94 points
* Euro STOXX 50 up 0.1 pct to 2,631.07 points
* Akzo Nobel and Daimler among top gainers
* Rise in China manufacturing boosts sentiment for equities
By Sudip Kar-Gupta
LONDON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - European shares steadied near
18-month highs on Friday, lifted by chemicals group AkzoNobel
and carmaker Daimler, and many traders
expected a further gradual rise before the year-end.
Uncertainty over talks in the United States to avoid
growth-curbing austerity measures has kept equity markets within
a tight range this month.
However, data on Friday which showed that China's
manufacturing sector expanded in December at its fastest pace in
14 months spurred hopes of better world growth and improved
sentiment towards equities.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was flat at
1,134.94 points by around midday, recovering from a 0.4 percent
fall in the previous session and edging back towards an 18-month
high of 1,141.32 points reached earlier this week.
The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index
rose 0.1 percent to 2,631.07 points.
German group Daimler gained 2 percent to add the most points
to the FTSEurofirst 300 index and contribute to Germany's DAX
equity index rising 0.3 percent to 7,600.86 points.
The company has made a push to revive its China sales, and
traders said the stock was up on hopes that it could benefit
from an improvement in the Chinese economic outlook and
outperform its rivals.
"Companies are increasingly gaining market share outside
Europe," said DWS Investments European equity fund manager
Gebhardt said the DAX could rise to record levels in 2013,
and Central Markets senior broker Joe Neighbour felt it could
end 2012 at around 7,700 points at the very least.
"Every minor dip is bought up pretty quickly afterwards. I
can't really see any big sell-off between now and the end of the
year. I expect the markets to continue to grind higher," he
AKZO GIVES CHEMICALS HIGH
Dutch company AkzoNobel was the best-performing stock on the
FTSEurofirst 300, rising 5.5 percent on plans to sell a north
American unit to PPG Industries for $1.1 billion.
"We see this disposal as a likely trigger event for the
stock, removing as it does one of the most troublesome sources
of poor returns within the group," Canaccord Genuity analysts
wrote in a research note, keeping a "buy" rating on Akzo.
Many investors have been reluctant to take on big, new
positions before the year-end, due to uncertainty over the U.S.
"fiscal cliff" - a combination of government spending cuts and
tax rises that could hit the U.S. economy next year.
However, Tavira Securities head of trading Toby
Campbell-Gray said investors were still favouring equities over
other asset classes such as cash or government bonds, where
returns have been hit as central banks cut interest rates to
record lows to stimulate a weakening global economy.
"Whether the equity market goes up, down or sideways, people
are still looking to buy it. We've got institutions coming in,
and they're net buyers, not sellers," said Campbell-Gray.