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European stock markets finished mixed on Wednesday. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index was up 31.20 points, or 0.72%, to 4,356.20 in a carryover of Tuesday's strong U.S. rally. BG Group was higher after saying second quarter net rose 41% because of higher energy prices and rising production. BP was higher after two brokerages raised their 2004 earnings estimates. HBOS was higher after saying first half growth topped estimates. BHP Billiton was up after it increased production in the fourth quarter to meet rising demand from China.
Germany's DAX index fell 6.87 points, or 0.18%, to 3,807.21 despite news that Germany's RWI economic institute raised its growth forecast for 2004 to 2.1%, just beyond the Bundesbank's forecast range of 1.5% to 2.0%. But German Gfk consumer confidence dropped to 3.4 in July from 3.9 in June, a sharp contrast to the surge in German July Ifo business sentiment reported on Tuesday. Merck KgaA was higher after Equinet Institutional Services analyst raised the firm's rating on stock to buy from hold. DaimlerChrysler AG was higher after it was expected to report higher second quarter earnings on Thursday. IDS Scheer AG was higher after news second quarter earnings rose 10%.
In Paris, the CAC 40 index advanced 10.82 points, or 0.30%, to 3,575.92 as a French July business confidence index rose to a 3-year high of 106 from a downwardly revised 104 in June. Renault was higher after saying its first half earnings rose 29%. PSA Peugeot Citroen was higher after three brokerages raised their ratings on the stock. Bigben Interactive was up after saying second quarter sales would be in line with those of Q1. BNP Paribas was up after agreeing to buy 50% stake in Russian Standard Group.
Asian markets finished higher on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 index gained 172.83 points, or 1.57%, to close at 11,204.37, with tech stocks leading gains. Sony rose 1.82% after it posted a surprise quarterly profit for the three months ended June 30 as a weaker yen boosted overseas sales. Sharp shares surged 2.07% after the company posted a 22% rise in quarterly profit. Automakers also trended higher, with Honda Motor up 2.39% after it posted an unexpected 0.3% rise in quarterly operating profit. Daiwa Securities also announce stellar results, with quarterly profit jumping 30% year-over-year.
But shares of UFJ Holdings tanked nearly 3% after reports said a Tokyo court ordered the bank to suspend the sale of its trust bank unit, which may raise uncertainty over its planned merger with Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group. On the economic front, Japan's retail sales fell 2.9% in June from one year ago, recording the fourth straight month of declines, hurt by poor sales of clothing and bad weather.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index added 18.95 points, or 0.15%, to close at 12,320.27, lifted by gains in tech stocks. But oil refiner Sinopec fell after reports said ExxonMobil is considering selling its 19% stake in the company.