Swiss Stocks Gain; Zurich Financial, Petroplus, Banks Advance

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Swiss stocks rose as European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said the ECB will delay the withdrawal of emergency liquidity measures and keep buying government bonds to stem the region’s debt crisis.

Zurich Financial Services AG gained 2.6 percent as Switzerland’s largest insurer said it plans to cut costs by $500 million over the next three years. Petroplus Holdings AG jumped 13 percent, the most in 15 months, as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. recommended buying the shares of Europe’s largest independent refiner. UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group AG advanced as banking shares were among the best performers in Europe today.

The Swiss Market Index gained 1.2 percent to 6,483.44 at the 5:30 p.m. close in Zurich. The gauge, which posted its first monthly loss in three months in November, has rallied 9.1 percent from its 2010 low in July. The broader Swiss Performance Index increased 1.2 percent today.

“Overall there is a good mood in the market into year end,” Benno Galliker, a trader at Luzerner Kantonalbank AG in Lucerne, said.

Trichet said the ECB will delay the withdrawal of emergency liquidity measures and keep buying government bonds as the debt crisis creates “acute” tensions in financial markets. The central bank kept interest rates at a record low of 1 percent, as predicted by all 52 economists in a Bloomberg News survey.

Swiss Growth

Earlier today, a report showed that Swiss economic growth weakened less than economists had forecast in the third quarter as consumers stepped up their spending, helping counter a drop in exports.

The country’s gross domestic product rose 0.7 percent from the second quarter, when it increased a revised 0.8 percent, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Bern said today. Economists forecast a 0.5 percent gain, the median of 18 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey showed.

Zurich increased 2.6 percent to 237 Swiss francs. The insurer plans to cut costs by $500 million over the next three years with more than two-thirds of the savings coming from its non-life business.

Petroplus surged 13 percent to 10.93 francs. The refiner was upgraded to “buy” from “neutral” at Goldman Sachs, which said in a note that “we are now forecasting a much better refinery utilization rate profile over the medium term than before.”

UBS and Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s biggest banks, rose 2.1 percent to 15.79 francs and 2.4 percent to 38.71 francs, respectively as a gauge for European banks advanced for a second day. Julius Baer Group Ltd., the 120-year-old Swiss private bank, advanced 3.1 percent to 41.45 francs.

Holcim Ltd., the world’s second-biggest cement maker, gained 2.5 percent to 67.70 francs. Kepler Capital Markets wrote in a note that “investors rightly neglected the sector over the last three years, but it now offers an excellent risk/reward ratio.”

Swatch, Synthes

Swatch Group AG, the maker of Omega and Breguet watches, gained 2.2 percent to 418.80 francs. Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. reiterated an “outperform” rating, saying in a note today that “the Swiss watch industry has experienced solid growth for 25 years. Emerging markets driven demand is pushing it to new highs, as growth prospects for the next 5 to 10 years look bright.”

Synthes Inc. rose 2.3 percent to 127 francs. Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc initiated coverage of the stock with a “buy” rating, saying in a note that it sees “better medium-term underlying growth prospects for Synthes than for some of its peers.”

Sonova Holding AG retreated 1.7 percent to 125 francs as the hearing-aid maker was downgraded to “equal weight” from “overweight” at Morgan Stanley.