Swiss Stocks Drop; Sonova Plunges After Cutting Forecast, Syngenta Gains

Swiss stocks dropped, extending the losses from the global selloff that followed Japan’s strongest earthquake on record.

Sonova Holding AG (SOON) slumped 23 percent, the largest retreat in eight years, after the hearing aid maker lowered its sales and profit forecasts. Syngenta AG (SYNN), the world’s biggest maker of chemicals for agriculture, gained 2.2 percent.

The Swiss Market Index (SMI) of the biggest and most actively traded companies slipped 1.3 percent to 6,021.55 at the 5:30 p.m. close in Zurich. The gauge has fallen 5.2 percent this week as investors speculated that Japan’s tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai- Ichi nuclear power plant will make further discharges of radioactive vapor into the atmosphere. The broader Swiss Performance Index decreased 1.4 percent.

“Market sentiment seems down for the count -- and it’s difficult to predict where a second wind will come from,” said Anthony Grech, head of research at IG Index in London.

Japan’s government suspended its plan to use military helicopters to drop water on the Fukushima facility today, even as officials battled to prevent any of the four stricken reactors at the site from suffering a meltdown. Clouds of white smoke or water vapor rose from the power plant following a fire at Dai-Ichi’s No. 4 reactor this morning. Radiation prevented workers from establishing whether their efforts had extinguished the blaze.

U.S. Housing Starts

U.S. housing starts declined more than forecast in February to the slowest pace since April 2009 and building permits slumped to a record low, signs that the housing market recovery is limping along even as the rest of the economy improves.

Home construction dropped 22.5 percent to a 479,000 annual rate, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The decline from January was the biggest since March 1984.

In Europe, Portugal’s debt rating was cut by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited a weaker outlook for economic growth, risks to the government’s deficit-reduction plans and a possible need to recapitalize the banks.

Sonova tumbled 23 percent to 89.15 Swiss francs after the company cut its sales and profit forecasts for the year. The Staefa, Switzerland-based company projected sales of about 1.6 billion francs ($1.76 billion) and earnings before interest, taxes and amortization of 20-21 percent of revenue in the 12 months to the end of March. That missed the average analyst estimate for full-year revenue of 1.68 billion francs. Sonova will take a 150-200 million-franc goodwill impairment because it recalled the Advanced Bionics LLC hearing aid.

Weatherford, LEM Holding

Weatherford International Ltd. (WFT) slid 2.7 percent to 18.35 francs. The Geneva-based oil services company said in a regulatory filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the Arab revolts in North Africa have disrupted its operations. Weatherford revised its first-quarter per-share earnings guidance to 18 cents and said its effective tax rate will be approximately 27 percent in 2011.

LEM Holding SA (LEHN) lost 7.1 percent to 534 francs, the largest decline since June. The shares were cut to “hold” from “buy” at Berenberg Bank.

Syngenta rallied 2.2 percent to 286.80 francs, its first gain in seven days.

To contact the reporter on this story: Giles Broom in Zurich at gbroom@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Rummer at arummer@bloomberg.net

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