EUROPEAN shares edged higher on Friday, lifted by major healthcare stocks and telecoms group Nokia, although some traders said they would look to sell equities due to an uncertain economic backdrop.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index ended up 0.1pc to 1,132.69 points - an 18-month closing high and its best finish since ending at 1,142.18 points on May 31, 2011.
The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index, which had also reached a 2012 intraday peak of 2,617.83 points this week, slipped 0.1pc to 2,601.37 points.
Nokia was the best performer on the FTSEurofirst, up 5.3pc as investors cheered its smartphone sales deal this week with China Mobile, although the stock is still down around 20pc so far this year.
"It's onwards and upwards for that stock. It looks as if Nokia has turned a corner," said Terry Torrison, managing director at Monaco-based McLaren Securities.
Healthcare stocks such as Roche and Sanofi also added the most points to the FTSEurofirst 300.
Roche rose 0.9pc while Sanofi gained 0.7pc, which traders said was due to upgrades on the stocks by Morgan Stanley, which raised its rating on Roche to "overweight" from "equal weight."
However, some analysts noted the fact that some key European equity indexes had failed to close above important technical levels.
Berkeley Futures associate director Richard Griffiths said the fact that the Euro STOXX 50 had failed to end above levels of around 2,610 points - a level from which it has previously fallen back - could herald more slight declines next week.
"It's stalled at the previous highs, which means we might drift lower next week," he said.
ITALY AND SPAIN UNDERPERFORM
European equity markets also drifted off earlier intraday highs on Friday due to a lack of progress in the United States over a deal to avoid growth-curbing austerity measures.
U.S. politicians remain in deadlock over talks to avert a "fiscal cliff".
The term refers to a combination of U.S. government spending cuts and tax rises due to be implemented under existing law in early 2013 that could hit the U.S. economy, although most investors expect politicians to reach a deal eventually.
The uncertain economic backdrop was further underlined on Friday by a rise in the bond yields of Spain and Italy, following fresh political tension in Rome that has undermined the position of Italy's Prime Minister.
Italy's FTSE MIB benchmark equity index fell 0.9pc while Spain's IBEX declined by 0.8pc, with both debt-ridden countries struggling to cope with the effects of the euro zone sovereign debt crisis.
HED Capital head Richard Edwards recommended that investors sell Greek, Spanish and Italian equities.
"The competitiveness of Italy and Spain cannot be restored easily. I wouldn't buy the market here. I think the best thing is to sell on rallies," he said.