Markets & Finance

Asia Closes Higher


European stock markets were mixed on Thursday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange-100 lost 6.30 points, or 0.13%, to close at 4894.40. The FTSE pulled back from early gains to close lower as Wall Street traded on negative ground following mixed macro data, and WTI rises above $55 per barrel again. Locally, individual performances were very mixed as the FTSE was boosted by strength in the banks, oil and gas, and mining sectors while healthcare weighed. Shire Pharma rose strongly after it said sales of its hyperactivity drug Adderall XR have remained in line despite its suspension in Canada earlier this year. On a negative note, Smith & Nephew fell after its orthopaedics division received a U.S. subpoena while Elan suffered a further plunge after a third patient was diagnosed with the rare disease PML after being treated with its MS drug Tsyabri. Shell confirmed that its proved reserves base at the end of 2004 was 11.9 billion barrels, while the reserve replacement ratio (RRR) was 49%.

Germany's Dax gained 1.25 points, or 0.03%, to close at 4348.77. Frankfurt ended Thursday's session barely moved as Wall Street sees marginal losses amid mixed macro data. Consumer spending for February saw a 0.5% rise, in line with expectations, and but jobless claims showed an unexpected rise to 350,000 from a forecast 320,000. Locally, sentiment was buoyed by Continental reporting stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, which showed net income tripling to 243.2 million euro from 69 million euro as demand for electronic components and replacement tyres increased. Infineon gained after U.S. memory chip producer Micron Technology reported estimates-beating earnings. The SOX index rose 2.3% yesterday. Thyssen recovered following recent weakness on concerns global steel prices may fall this year. M&A rumours still link Deutsche Telekom with UK's Exel. Schering was marked higher after a Elan/Biogen slump on news Tysabri drug may be permanently suspended.

In France, the CAC-40 gained 3.17 points, or 0.08%, to close at 4067.78. The CAC40 ended a shade above unchanged on Thursday as Wall Street edges lower amid mixed macro data and rising oil prices. Consumer spending for February saw a 0.5% rise, in line with expectations, but jobless claims showed an unexpected rise to 350,000 versus a forecast 320,000. WTI rallied over $1 per barrel to trade above $55 per barrel again. Investors are also guarded ahead of tomorrow's key U.S. jobs report. At home, Total gained on the renewed spike in oil prices. EADS fell after Merrill Lynch downgraded to sell from neutral.

Asian markets were higher on Thursday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225, gained 103.07 points, or 0.89%, to close at 11,668.95. Chipmakers such as Advantest Corp added 0.86% to 8,180 yen, after its U.S. counterpart Micron Technology reported upbeat earnings report. In addition, NTN Corp, a bearing producer, rose 3.49% to 593 yen, after the Nihon Keizai Daily reported that its 2004/2005 group recurring profit was expected to exceed forecasts by 500 million yen to 28 billion yen, a record high, thanks to strong orders from auto manufacturers. Nippon Oil gained 2.98% to 761 yen, as Japan's biggest oil distributor raised its 2004/2005 profit forecast by 8.7%, and its annual dividend to 12 yen/share for each of the next three years starting from April. Further, the firm said that it would buy back up to 50 million of its own shares, worth about 50 billion yen. On the down side, Mito Securities, despite recovering part of its early losses, was down 5.3% to 500 yen, after Privee Zurich Turnaround Group, a Japanese investment firm, issued a clarification that it hadn't given up trying to take over any of five medium-sized brokers in which it held stakes of more than 5%.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index was up 91.13 points, or 0.68%, to close at 13,516.88. Lenovo Group, jumped 3.92% to $2.65 (Hong Kong) on news that the group has reached share placement agreement with three private equity firms--Texas Pacific Group, General Atlantic and Newbridge Capital. The three private equity firms will provide the group with a total of $350 million (Hong Kong). PCCW, the island's dominant fixed line phone company, gained 6.67% to $4.4 (Hong Kong), after it turned profitable last year, and reported headline profit of $1.64 billion (Hong Kong), boosted by one-time gains from the disposal of Pacific Century Premium Development (PCPD) shares. As a result, Deutsche Bank upgraded PCCW to buy from hold. Further, China Oil added 4.85% to $2.7 (Hong Kong), as the major drilling services arm in offshore China reported earnings growth of 79% to 248.6 million yuan in second-quarter 2004, beating the street's forecasts.

Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P gained 128.12 points, or 1.35%, to close at 9,612.38.


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