Markets & Finance

Europe and Asia Lower


European stock markets were lower on Wednesday. The Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 lost 5.60 points, or 0.12%, to close at 4818.30. The FTSE closed lower with gains from retailer WH Smith and Rolls Royce countered by sluggish trading figures from Boots and Pearson. Wall Street traded lower as CPI data for December calm inflation fears, but failed to offset some mixed earnings reports. Among retail stocks, magazine and book seller WH Smith said total retail like-for-like sales were down 1% for the six weeks to Jan. 15 but added year-to-date profitability has improved substantially. Rolls-Royce has won a third contract worth $75 million to supply RB211 gas turbines for the Azeri oil project being developed in the Caspian Sea. Boots reported total third-quarter like-for-like sales rose 2.6%, below forecasts, with fiscal year operating profit expected to be broadly in line with market expectations. Broker Merrill Lynch cut its target to 7.20 pounds from 7.70 pounds following the results. Publisher Pearson dipped 2.75% on a tough year for Penguin but noted its Financial Times division broke even in the fourth quarter.

In Germany, the DAX lost 5.16 points, or 0.12%, to close at 4245.55. Frankfurt closed little unchanged in unusually quiet trade due largely to the fact that so many of the markets primary movers and shakers were absent due to a Cheuvreux 'German Corporate Conference' in Kronberg. A plethora of macro data and differing corporate news emanating out of the States painted a mixed picture on both a macro and corporate front. U.S. CPI came in lower than expected at -0.1% while jobless claims fell 48,000 to 319,000. On the corporate news front, Pfizer impressed while JP Morgan's profit fell 11%. Locally, Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Post paced gainers after bullish press reports. The first in Capital magazine, said DT would probably pay a dividend of slightly more than 1 euro for 2006. The second, in Die Zeit, which quoted its CEO saying that 2004 sales surpassed the 40 billion euro mark. Elsewhere, Continental rose 1.5% on weaker oil, shrugging off allegations it may have manipulated winter tyre test results. E.ON benefited 0.57% after Morgan Stanley lifted its target price to 80 euro after predicting stronger energy sales this year. Deutsche Boerse gained 0.90% on renewed speculation its bid for LSE may fail. The company said it is setting up a committee to help advance its bid for the LSE. Insurance stocks were lower on a sector downgrade by Lehman.

France's CAC-40 lost 6.01 points, or 0.16%, to close at 3869.01. France's CAC40 ended lower on Wednesday, having edged into negative terrain in the afternoon session as Wall Street traded lower. A disappointing outlook statement from Motorola, as well as a number of uninspiring earnings reports weighed on the main U.S. indices. After the close, the Fed's Beige Book will be eyed for clues to the state of the US economy. In Paris, France Telecom, Sanofi and Total offset advances in St Gobain and Lafarge. France Telecom slipped 1% after an earlier rebound - induced by a denial it is preparing 13.5 billion euro offer for Wind - was short lived.

Asian markets were lower on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 index lost 63.84 points, or 0.56%, to close at 11,423.26. Japan shares slid on profit-taking following a two-day rally. Exporters fell, with Honda Motor sliding 1.47% while Toyota Motor inched down 0.24%. Real estate names declined after Merrill Lynch said a slowdown in condominium sales is likely to become a risk factor from April. Fuji TV fell 2.65% after it said on Monday it would launch a $719 million tender offer to take control of Nippon Broadcasting System. On the upside, Mitsubishi Motors rose after the company announced that it would supply 36,000 small passenger cars per year to Nissan Motor.

In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng Index fell -17.43 points, or 0.13%, to close at 13,604.22, as investors remained cautious due to lack of fresh catalysts. Taiwan's TAIEX ended almost flat as tech stocks lost steam after a two-day rise. The index's decline was limited by gains in banking names and steel stocks.

Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P lost 14.42 points, or 0.16%, to close at 9,120.35.


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