European Stocks Drop a Third Day; BHP Billiton Declines

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European stocks dropped for a third day as BHP Billiton Ltd. declined, offsetting gains by companies from Statoil ASA to Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc after they posted earnings that exceeded analysts’ estimates.

BHP Billiton retreated 2.3 percent. Vestas Wind Systems A/S tumbled 14 percent, its biggest retreat in a month, as the company posted an annual loss four times wider than analysts had estimated. Statoil climbed 1.3 percent after reporting profit that more than doubled on rising oil prices. Reckitt Benckiser rallied after saying 2012 sales will increase at a faster pace than the industry.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index lost 0.2 percent to 263.01 at the close, after earlier advancing as much as 0.6 percent. The benchmark measure has still rallied 22 percent from last year’s low and 7.6 percent this year as investors speculated that Greece will accept the spending cuts needed to obtain further financial aid from the rest of the euro area.

“I’m assuming for the moment that Greece will stay in the euro zone and this week or next week we will have an agreement on Greek debt talks,” Bob Parker, a senior adviser at Credit Suisse Asset Management, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “For the next few months, we’ll probably flat line in markets. In the second half, there is very strong ground to start a one- to two-year rally.”

National benchmark indexes climbed in 10 of the 18 western-European markets today. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index fell 0.2 percent. France’s CAC 40 Index and Germany’s DAX Index decreased

0.1 percent.

Greek Spending Cuts

Greece’s Prime Minister Lucas Papademos met the leaders of the three political parties that support his government in Athens today. He held an unscheduled meeting late last night with the troika -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- to haggle over the terms needed to secure further aid.

Of the 94 Stoxx 600 companies that have reported quarterly earnings since Jan. 9, 45 have missed analysts’ estimates, compared with 44 that have beaten their projections, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

BHP Billiton retreated 2.3 percent to 2,130 pence. The world’s biggest mining company reported a 5.5 percent drop in first-half profit, the first decline since 2009, as rising costs and lower output and prices cut its earnings from base metals by half. Net income fell to $9.9 billion in the six months through December from $10.5 billion a year earlier, the company said in a statement.

Vestas Shares Tumble

Vestas plunged 14 percent to 57.50 kroner for the largest slump on the Stoxx 600. The world’s biggest wind-turbine maker reported an annual loss of 166 million euros ($220 million), according to its annual report. The average estimate of 16 analysts called for a loss of 40.3 million euros, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Portugal’s PSI 20 Index jumped 1.9 percent. Banco Espirito Santo SA surged 13 percent to 1.67 euros, while Banco Comercial Portugues SA rose 5.1 percent to 18.5 euro cents.

Banco Comercial rose on speculation that Portugal’s second-biggest bank’s plan to change its chief executive officer has prompted investors to stop betting the shares will fall. Banco Comercial said on Jan. 30 that CEO Carlos Santos Ferreira will leave his post and Nuno Amado, the former CEO of the Portuguese unit of Banco Santander SA, may replace him.

Bank shares increased 0.6 percent for the biggest gain among the 19 industry groups in the Stoxx 600. UniCredit SpA, Italy’s biggest lender, added 2.2 percent to 4.48 euros. Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, the country’s second-largest bank, gained 3 percent to 1.60 euros.

Statoil, Reckitt Benckiser

Statoil climbed 1.3 percent to 152 kroner. Norway’s national oil company reported fourth-quarter net income of 25.5 billion kroner ($4.4 billion), beating the average analyst estimate for income of 13.3 billion kroner.

Reckitt Benckiser advanced 2.9 percent to 3,479 pence. The maker of Nurofen painkillers and Dettol kitchen spray said 2012 sales will increase at a faster pace than the industry after reporting fourth-quarter earnings that beat estimates.

Non-pharmaceutical revenue will climb 3 percent to 4 percent this year, compared with growth of 1 percent to 2 percent in the broader market, the company said, adding that it aims to maintain profitability.

Mobistar SA sank 9 percent to 36.77 euros. Belgium’s second-biggest mobile-phone company forecast that the decline in its profit will accelerate this year, missing analysts’ estimates. Net income will drop to 182.5 million euros, plus or minus 12.5 million euros, the company said. That compared with analyst projections for 2012 profit of 220.8 million euros, the average of 13 estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Nexans SA jumped 9 percent to 51.78 euros. The world’s second-largest maker of cables and wires reported an increase in its 2011 operating profit margin and predicted further revenue growth this year.

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