European stock markets were higher on Thursday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange-100 gained 12.10 points, or 0.25%, to close at 4922.50. The FTSE 100 closed higher with Wall Street also on positive ground after General Electric raised its first-quarter earnings per share guidance and the release of strong new home sales data. In London, performances were mixed, higher telecoms, financials and retailers offset weakness in energy and mining stocks as crude oil futures (WTI) continued below the $55 per barrel mark. Prudential was the main FTSE 100 gainer after appointing Mark Tucker, currently finance director at HBOS, as CEO. Sainsbury pleased investors, with fourth-quarter like-for-like sales up 3.7%, or up 1.7% excluding petrol. BT continued to benefit from yesterday's favourable Ofcom review. BP remained the main drag on the FTSE, down on oil prices and news an explosion at its biggest refinery located in Texas killed at least 14 people.
Germany's DAX gained 26.40 points, or 0.61%, to close at 4343.60. Frankfurt ended Thursday's session higher in quiet, pre-holiday trade as Wall Street tots up some gains, by General Electric having raised its first-quarter earnings forecast and better-than-expected new home sales data. Locally, German CPI numbers continue to filter through from the Laender showing a slight uptick (0.3%/0.4%) in March prices. German import prices for February released came in above forecast at 0.8% month over month to give a 3.7 year-over-year total, reflecting the recent surge in energy costs. On the corporate news front, Lufthansa gained as Merrill Lynch reiterated its buy rating. TUI fell after Deutsche Bank was reported to be selling over 5 million shares for an undisclosed investor, rumoured to be Spanish hotel chain RIU, at around 20.25 euro per share. Infineon gained after a report said stockpiles of chips will be completely cleared out early in the April to June period after falling 24% to 4 days' worth of stock. Deutsche Bank's CEO, speaking at a fiscal year results conference, reiterated the 25% return-on-equity target and announced a continuation of its share buyback programme. BASF will close a nylon plant in the U.S. by 2007 and consolidate production at an expanded Texas site to reduce costs.
In France, the CAC-40 gained 45.90 points, or 1.14%, to close at 4078.31. The CAC40 rounded off the week on a high note. Blue chips ended in the black as Wall Street makes firm progress after GE boosted sentiment by lifting first-quarter earnings forecasts and WTI futures for May delivery slipped under $54 per barrel. Locally, Sanofi and France Telecom and banks rallied on the last trading day before the Easter weekend. Vivendi was firm as Deutsche Bank added the stock to its Pan-European Focus List. STM rose. In the broader market, Air France was helped by the decline in oil prices. Hermes posted lighter-than-expected FY04 results, but proposes a dividend of 2.0 euro per share.
Asian markets were mixed on Thursday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 gained 6.85 points, or 0.06%, to close at 11,745.97. Sanyo, Japan's number three consumer electronics maker, deepened early losses and ended the session down 4.26% to 337 yen, after the firm said net losses for this business year would be 70% higher than its earlier forecast to about 121 billion yen due to slowing demand for digital electronics. In addition, Pioneer fell 2.37% to 1,934 yen, as the firm said that it would miss its sales and profit targets in the next business year as a result of higher restructuring costs. The company would cut 5% of its group workforce and shut about one-fourth of its factories to help it recover from a deep earning slump. On the upside, Nippon Broadcasting System shot up 15.9% to 7,280 yen on speculation internet company Livedoor Co is buying firm's shares. TDK was up 0.81% to 7,480 yen, cheered by firm's promise to raise its dividend payment to 70 yen per share for the year ended Mar. 31. On the economic front, the business survey index for Jan-March this year fell to 0.6 from 2.1 in October through December period of 2004.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index dipped 6.51 points, or 0.11%, to 13589, about half an hour before the close. China Merchant Holding lost 2.22% to HK$15.45, after the firm said that it has bought a 17.5% stake in Shekou Container Terminals from COSCO Pacific. But Lenovo Group jumped 4.08% to HK$2.55 on news that the firm is in advanced talks with Texas Pacific Group, General Atlantic and Newbrige Capital, which plan to put up a total of around $350 million to take a minority stake in Lenovo.
Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P lost 16.57 points, or 0.17%, to close at 9,533.10.