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Swiss Stocks Advance; Roche Holding, Novartis Shares Lead Gains

Swiss stocks advanced, after swinging between gains and losses throughout the day, as German investor confidence unexpectedly improved easing concern the latest euro-area accord will fail to halt the debt crisis.

Health-care companies led gains, with Roche Holding AG climbing 1.1 percent. Straumann Holding AG, the world’s biggest dental implant maker, jumped 3.6 percent. Credit Suisse Group AG, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank, led losses among lenders and financial companies.

The Swiss Market Index, a measure of the largest and most actively traded companies, added 0.2 percent to 5,759.72 at the close in Zurich, having fluctuated between gains and losses more than 30 times. The broader Swiss Performance Index also increased 0.2 percent today.

“The U.S. economy is holding up pretty well,” said Patrik Scheuber, head of equities at Swisscanto Asset Management AG in Zurich. “But that is hardly enough to go significantly higher. Europe still stands in the foreground as all efforts to solve the debt crisis are still inadequate.”

German investor confidence unexpectedly improved for the first time in 10 months in December. The ZEW Center for European Economic Research said that its index of German investor and analyst expectations, which aims to predict developments six months in advance, posted a reading of minus 53.8. That was better than the median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg News survey.

Credit Review

The SMI dropped 0.8 percent yesterday, after Moody’s Investors Service said it is reviewing all national credit ratings in the euro area following the Dec. 8-9 European Union summit in Brussels.

Fitch Ratings said that the accord agreed by euro-area leaders at the summit did little to ease pressure on the governments struggling with the debt crisis.

“The lack of a comprehensive solution has increased short-term pressure on euro-zone sovereign credit profiles and ratings,” Fitch said. “It means the crisis will continue at varying levels of intensity throughout 2012 and probably beyond, until the region is able to sustain broad economic recovery.”

A U.S. Commerce Department report today showed retail sales in the world’s largest economy gained 0.2 percent in November, the slowest pace in five months, following a 0.6 percent advance the previous month. Economists had projected a 0.6 percent increase in November, according to the median forecast of 83 economists in a Bloomberg News survey.

Swiss GDP Growth

The Swiss government said today it doesn’t expect economic growth to recover before 2013. It lowered the growth forecasts to 1.8 percent this year and 0.5 percent in 2012, from its earlier estimates of 1.9 percent and 0.9 percent respectively. It projected a growth of 1.9 percent in 2013.

Spain sold 4.94 billion euros ($6.5 billion) of 12- and 18-month bills, the Bank of Spain said, compared with the maximum target of 4.25 billion euros the Treasury set for the sale.

Roche, the world’s largest maker of cancer drugs, rallied 1.1 percent to 155.60 Swiss francs, while Novartis AG added 0.9 percent to 51.40 francs. Lonza Group AG, the world’s biggest maker of drug ingredients, gained 1.9 percent to 54.15 francs.

Straumann, Georg Fischer

Straumann Holding rose 3.6 percent to 173.60 francs after Simon Goetschmann, an analyst at Helvea Ltd., resumed coverage of the stock with a “neutral” rating, saying the company appears to be fairly valued.

Georg Fischer AG climbed 1.8 percent to 318.50 francs after Credit Suisse analyst Patrick Laager raised his recommendation on the machinery maker to “outperform” from “neutral.” Laager said investors should pick stocks selectively in the Swiss industrial sector.

Richemont fell 1.2 percent to 47.35 francs after analysts downgraded the shares. Shamil Ismail of Cadiz Securities cut the recommendation to “hold” from “buy.” Separately, CA Chevreux downgraded the stock to “outperform” from “selected list.” Swatch, the world’s largest watchmaker, slid 2.6 percent to 332.30 francs.

Credit Suisse lost 1 percent to 21.92 francs after being sued by the trustee liquidating Bernard Madoff’s former investment firm to recover $375 million in redemptions that were taken out of Madoff’s company before his Ponzi scheme was exposed.

Zurich Financial Services AG, Switzerland’s largest insurer, retreated 0.8 percent to 202.70 franc. UBS AG, the country’s biggest bank, lost 1 percent to 11.11 francs.

Sonova Holding AG, the hearing-aid maker, dropped 1.2 percent to 94.65 francs.

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