Lenders led a rally in European stocks, sending the Stoxx Europe 600 Index near a record.

Spain’s Banco Santander SA and Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo SpA climbed more than 1.5 percent, while France’s Societe Generale SA added 2.5 percent. Deutsche Lufthansa AG lost 1.6 percent as Germanwings, its low-cost subsidiary, operated a plane that crashed in southern France.

The Stoxx 600 advanced 0.3 percent to 402.49 at the close of trading in London, reversing an earlier drop of as much as 0.5 percent as data showed that euro-area business activity expanded faster than forecast. For Germany, a composite index the manufacturing and services industries rose to 55.3 in March from 53.8 in February, marking a 23rd month of growth. The Stoxx 600 ended 0.7 percent away from a record reached in 2000.

European shares have rallied 18 percent this year, with the Stoxx 600 closing at its highest level since 2000 last week, as the European Central Bank started a quantitative-easing program and speculation increased that the Federal Reserve won’t rush to raise rates.

Source : Bloomberg