Markets & Finance

European Indexes Lower Wednesday


Markets remained weak after Tuesday's sell-off as investors fretted over declines in Asia

From Standard & Poor's European MarketScope

European bourses continued to feel the effects of the Chinese equity sell-off Wednesday afternoon. On a positive note, they showed some signs of recovery Wednesday afternoon as Wall Street attempted a modest rebound.

UK: The FTSE 100 index finished down 1.82% at 6171.5 near interday lows.

France: The CAC 40 index (-1.29%) ended Wednesday's session lower. In Paris, Carrefour (+4.13%) bucked the trend on news that chairman Luc Vandevelde considered an LBO of the French retailer with some private equity funds, according to breakingviews.com. Elsewhere, earnings reports filled the headlines but strong results failed to fend off losses.

Bouygues' (-0.15%) better-than-expected 2006 net profit came in 50% higher year-over-year at €1.246 billion. The company lifted its dividend 33% to €1.20 per share and targeted 2007 sales growth of 8%. Vinci (-1.63%) posted 2006 EBIT of €2.798 billion, ahead of estimates. Actual net income reported was €1.270 billion, also topping estimates.

Altran (-6.73%) indicated that fiscal 2006 EBIT margin would be around 5% - a disappointment relative to its original 6.2% expectation. Publicis (+1.29%) bounced as it posted better-than-expected fiscal 2006 sales of €4.386 billion, +6.3% and a dividend of €0.50 per share, +39%. Atos Origin (-1.42%) disclosed revenues of €5.397 billion; +1.5% year-over-year and EBIT of €247 million in-line with its earlier update.

Germany: The Xetra-Dax index (-1.53%) closed in the red. Munich Re (-3.4%) reported 2006 net profit of €3.54 billion, in line with expectations. The world's No. 1 reinsurer proposed a dividend payment of €4.50 per share, up from the €3.10 paid in 2005. Pfleiderer's (+5.28%) 2006 EBITDA doubled to €208 million. QSC's (+4.34%) 2006 core profit more than trebled to €21 million, and the telco group's annual net loss narrowed to €6.7 million from €18.2 million in the red in 2005.

A recent good run for the stock saw profit-takers swoop. With costs rising, biotech firm Morphosys (+0.51%) posted a net loss of €0.1 million for the fourth quarter compared to net earnings of €0.8 million for the same period a year ago. The positive outlook statement drove the stock higher.

Earnings aside, Italy's Enel bought a 9.99% stake in Endesa at €39 per share, potentially scuppering E.On's (EON) (-4.02%) bid for the Spanish utility. VW's (+2.94%) Audi unit upped its sales target for 2015 to 1.5 million vehicles from 1.4 million previously.

Separately, there was talk that the carmaker wants to exchange its preference shares into ordinary shares. March 9 is being mulled as the possible exchange date. SAP (SAP) (unch.) was in focus amid talk of the group buying its own shares in the market. Looking ahead, Deutsche Telekom's (-1.31%) 2006 results will be presented Thursday.

Elsewhere: Italian indices closed trading in the red. It was the same story in Zurich where the SMI index (-1.35%), like other European bourses, recovered slightly but remained in the red throughout the day.

Claudia Perotti, Lydia Carroll, Sara Oscarsson, Isabell Witt, Michael Sanderson, Gaurav Panchal, Julien Manrique, John West, Ben Marino, Emma Stevenson, Pawan Girglani.

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