Europe Lower

European stock markets were lower Wednesday as oil, gas and banking stocks weighed on markets

European stock markets were lower on Wednesday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange-100 lost 18.30 points, or 0.37%, to close at 4900.70. The FTSE closed just above the 4,900 mark as oil, gas, and banking stocks continued to weigh, though an uplift in metals prices provided some support for the miners. Wall Street trades higher after the final reading of fourth-quarter 2004 GDP came in at 3.8%. At home, the effect of several large stocks trading ex-dividend today added to the pain, including Amvescap, BG Group, Legal & General, and Scottish & Newcastle. BSkyB was also trading ex-dividend but was boosted by an upgrade from Lehman Brothers. Tate & Lyle dropped on concerns about the impact of higher cost export licences for sugars in Europe, undoing yesterday's post-trading statement gains. Scottish Power said its outlook for the fiscal year remains unchanged, but said PacifiCorp's result will be impacted by low rainfall, which has reduced hydro electric availability.

Germany's Dax lost 4.37 points, or 0.10%, to close at 4347.52. Frankfurt finished the session flat as Wall Street ratcheted up gains following higher-than-expected crude inventories for the week ending Mar, 25, which released the pressure on oil prices. Domestically, German Gfk consumer confidence rose to 5.2 from 4.9 last month, while expectations for the economy fell to -18.2 from -13.0. Of local note, Lufthansa recovered losses following a downgrade from UBS to neutral due to profitability outlook. Tui fell further as Morgan Stanley cut its EPS estimates for the next three years. Separately, the RIU family reduced its stake in Tui to 5.1%. Thyssen was lower on weakness in U.S. steel stocks last night. On the plus side, banking stocks Commerzbank and HVB offered some support on renewed European M&A speculation. Puma extended gains after reiterating 5% to 9% net growth for 2005. Hugo Boss sees high single-digit pretax profit/sales growth in 2005. The company expects gross margin above 54%. Loewe jumped after revealing 1Q loss narrowed following a 50 million euro investment from Sharp and rising sales of its flat-screen sets.

In France, the CAC-40 lost 17.04 points, or 0.42%, to close at 4064.61. The CAC40 ended lower on Wednesday, having moved within a 21 point range for the entire session. Wall Street was trading higher by France's close. The Dow was up 0.65% and the Nasdaq rose 0.84% as the final reading of fourth-quarter 2004 U.S. GDP came in at 3.8%. Upon Europe's close, WTI crude dropped $1.23 per barrel to below $53 per barrel on the release of a sharper-than-expected draw in crude inventories by the Department of Energy. Of local note, in a predominantly weak market, UK's AB Foods and Premier Foods are among those touted as being interested in Danone's HP Sauce unit. Heinz and Kraft have also been indicated as potential bidders. SocGen is buying Promek bank from SOK of Russia, subject to the approval of the Bank of Russia and the antitrust authority. Alcatel said 2004 net income amounted to 600 million euro under IFRS, vs. 281 million euro under French GAAP. Saint Gobain disclosed 2004 net profit was 14.4% higher and EBIT up 4.2% under the new accounting rules.

Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 33.94 points, or 0.29%, to close at 11,565.88. Tokyo followed Wall Street lower. Exporters and manufacturers declined after weaker than expected Japan industrial output data. February industrial production fell 2.1% versus expectations for a drop of 1.2%. Basic materials related shares were hit hard in US markets and the selling continued in Tokyo, decliners included Nippon Steel and Jfe Holdings (manufactures steel products).

Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 13.87 points, or 0.10%, to close at 13,425.75. Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P gained 88.84 points, or 0.95%, to close at 9,484.26.

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