From Standard & Poor's European MarketScope
European indexes closed flat to higher Wednesday after Iran said it would release the captured Britons. Oil was at US$63.77 barrel on the Iranian news. EIA data showed a sharp fall in gasoline inventories. Stateside, Wall Street was mixed.
UK: The FTSE 100 index closed flat. However, investors held back ahead of the BoE interest rate decision tomorrow. UK March services PMI picked up a bit. Locally, waste group Biffa (-6.62%) said 2006/07 revenues and profits would be towards the lower end of market expectations. Recruitment firm Michael Page (+3.29%) posted a 33.2% rise in first quarter gross profit, saying that the outlook is encouraging.
British Airways (BAB) (+0.30%) said March passenger traffic rose 3.3%. In other news, AstraZeneca (AZN) (+0.70%) could lose 38% of its revenue because key drug patents will expire in the next five years, according to research by Prudential Equity Group and AXA Framlington, The Times reported.
In M&A talk: SSL (+7.00%) was up on speculation of a £4.65/share bid, possibly from J&J. Stocks that traded ex-dividend: Alliance & Leicester (-3.12%), Kingfisher (-1.50%), Pearson (-2.04%).
France: The CAC 40 index (+0.47%) closed the session in the black, while Wall Street traded slightly higher as ADP Employment data came in lower than expected, and amid falling oil prices as Iran said it would free 15 UK sailors. Total (TOT) (-0.09%) underperformed. Elsewhere, focus was on Carrefour (+3.43%) as Colony Capital's founder Thomas Barrack said he wants Carrefour to raise as much as €30 billion from property sales, more than the retail giant said its real-estate assets are worth, Bloomberg reported.
Thales (-0.07%) won regulatory approval to purchase from Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) (+2.31%) stakes in two satellite joint ventures with Italy's Finmeccanica. France is blocking proposals by the management and two leading shareholders of EADS (+0.34%) - DaimlerChrysler and Lagardere - to pay a dividend and issue convertible bonds, according to The Times.
Among those reporting, SCOR (+2.14%) posted an increase of 92% in its fiscal 2006 net income to €252 million taking into account the acquisition of Revios. Sodexho (+0.35%) reported first half like-for-like sales up 8.2% to €6.82 billion and raised its guidance for the year as a whole.
Germany: The Xetra-Dax index closed higher. In corporate news, Bmi, the UK carrier in which Lufthansa (+3.57%) has a 30% stake, was seeking an open skies alliance with United Airlines (UAUA), wrote The Times. The move would effectively merger their trans-Atlantic operations.
Chrysler took centre stage at DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) (-1.45%) AGM. The auto giant confirmed that it was in talks with partners for Chrysler, reiterating that all options were open for the unit. Data-wise, DCX's U.S. sales fell for the second straight month in March, down 4.1%. Chrysler sales fell 4.6% and Mercedes sales rose almost 1%. BMW's (+2.46%) U.S. vehicle sales rose 2.2% in March and VW's (-0.56%) Audi unit sold 10.6% more cars.
In the telco sector, Deutsche Telekom (+0.85%) was in focus on news that it may have joined Mediobanca and Assicurazioni Generali in an offer rivaling that of AT&T and its Mexican affiliate America Movil for a 66% stake in Olimpia, the Pirelli unit which controls Telecom Italia via an 18% stake, Il Sole 24 Ore reported.
Elsewhere: Milan ended Wednesday's session flat with Telecom Italia (TI), Generali and STM (STM)supportive.
It was a quiet day for trading in the Swiss markets with the benchmark SMI flat most of the session.