Markets & Finance

Europe Higher, Asia Loses


European stock markets gained in trading on Friday. In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 gained 29.80 points, or 0.62%, to close at 4854.10. The FTSE closed higher after a number of key broker upgrades offset a string of profit warnings from high profile retailers. BG Group lifted 2.37% after Merrill Lynch upgraded the stock to buy while Morgan Stanley upped HBOS to overweight. Shire Pharma also jumped 4.65% on a JP Morgan upgrade. As anticipated, Marks & Spencer, Big Food Group, and JJB Sports all posted disappointing Christmas sales figures. All three initially fell in early trade but M&S and JJB gained on Friday bid talk. M&S said UK retail sales for the six weeks to Jan. 1 2005 were down 5.6% with sales for the 13 weeks to Jan. 1 dropping 6%. The company now expects fiscal profits will be in the range of 600 million pounds to 625 million pounds, vs. consensus of 675 million pounds. Big Food Group reports a 3.4% fall in third-quarter sales while JJB Sports sees a total turnover falling 2% year-over-year for the six weeks ending Jan. 2.

In Germany, the DAX gained 15.46 points, or 0.36%, to close at 4316.40. Schering continued to lag after it said it has been asked to provide additional information regarding its Bonefas cancer treatment. The drug had been expected to pass the FDA's tests without such action. The pharma concern reiterated its 18% operating margin target for 2006. Altana and Schwarz Pharma dipped in response, while Stada Arznei moved on positive chart technicals. Elsewhere, SAP benefited 2.02% from positive broker comments from JP Morgan and rumours that it may issue its trading statement ahead of its provisional Jan. 26 date. This was later denied by SAP. Henkel was marked 1.47% higher on news it has closed its Canadian manufacturing site. Deutsche Bank continued recent gains, buying back a further 10 million shares and saying it will buy a total of 19 million by June 2005. Siemens totted up winnings after an upgrade from Goldman Sachs.

France's CAC-40 gained 21.48 points, or 0.56%, to close at 3877.96. Key support came from selective financials. Lehman Brothers downgraded its view on French banks to neutral from positive, but the broker did highlight SocGen as its top pick in the sector, raising its target price. SocGen also benefited from a credit rating upgrade from Moody's. Thales remained lower, hit by a CSFB downgrade to neutral from outperform, saying that after a 35% rally since-October, the potential from an eventual EADS bid is already priced in. In the car sector also, all was priced in, with PSA falling 1.7% on profit-taking. Its fiscal 2004 sales beat forecasts slightly, but European performance disappointed. PSA had risen 1.8% already yesterday, when Renault posted good fiscal 2004 sales. Air France-KLM was stable as higher oil prices offset news December traffic rose 6.9%. Euronext benefited 0.9% from Deutsche Boerse's difficulties in clenching a final deal with LSE, following a frosty Anglo/German meeting in London yesterday.

Asian markets fell on caution ahead of U.S. jobs data released later in the day. Japan's Nikkei average slipped 59.02 points, or 0.51%, to close at 11,433.24. Tech stocks fell, with Advantest declining 0.47% while Tokyo Electron dropped 0.66%. But Sony Corp shares on a report saying Microsoft Corp may try to strike a deal with it in the digital music business.

In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng Index sank 137.18 points, or 1.00%, to close at 13,574.86, pressured by a sell-off in blue chips and Macau-concept stocks. CNOOC shares plummeted after reports said it is in talks to buy the Asian assets of a foreign oil company, while both Standard Chartered (StanChart) and HSBC fell after a South Korean newspaper reported StanChart beat HSBC in the battle to buy Korea First Bank.

Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P lost 58.04 points, or 0.64%, to close at 9,006.22.


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