European stocks rose for a third day, extending their biggest gain since January, as they headed for an all-time high.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.5 percent to 406.47 at 10:01 a.m. in London. German industrial production rose in February, the latest of economic data in the euro area beating forecasts. The equity gauge ended at its highest level since March 2000 on Wednesday after surpassing a record close intraday. The Stoxx 600 has rallied 21 percent this year as the European Central Bank started a quantitative-easing program. The one from the Federal Reserve helped U.S. shares more than triple from a 12-year low in March 2009. Minutes from the Fed’s last meeting showed officials were split on the timing for a first interest-rate increase.

“This year Europe is in favor because of the huge QE put in place by the ECB,” said Pierre Mouton, who helps oversee $8 billion at Notz, Stucki & Cie. in Geneva. “On one side, you have the U.S. with a good economy and a market that has already gone up a lot. On the other side, you have Europe with a nascent recovery and a market that has only started to perform.”

Media and construction companies led the advance on Thursday. Vivendi SA rose 1.4 percent after agreeing to pay an additional dividend to accommodate demands by a Wall Street activist investor. A report by Nasdaq OMX Group Inc.’s advisory-services unit showed that shares of the 25 biggest dividend payers on the Stoxx 600 outpaced those doing the biggest repurchases by almost 13 percent in the past year.

Dividends, Buybacks

Lafarge SA added 2.8 percent and Holcim Ltd. rose 1.9 percent. The cement makers agreed to appoint Eric Olsen to lead their combined operation as they seek to overcome lingering opposition from some shareholders to their planned merger.

The Swiss Market Index added 1 percent, the biggest gain among 18 western-European markets. Cie. Financiere Richemont SA led the advance, up 3.2 percent. Credit Suisse Group AG predicted first-quarter organic sales at European luxury-goods companies will rise 3 percent.

Greece’s ASE Index increased 1 percent after the country made a payment to the International Monetary Fund that was due on Thursday. Portugal’s PSI 20 Index also climbed 1 percent.

Stoxx 600 commodity producers fell after their biggest two-day gain in almost a month. The volume of European shares changing hands was 18 percent lower than the 30-day average.

(Source: Bloomberg)