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Swiss Stocks Fall as Bernanke Damps Stimulus Speculation

Feb. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Swiss stocks fell at the close of trading, sending the benchmark gauge lower for a fourth day, as U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke damped speculation of more quantitative easing to drive growth.

Actelion Ltd., Julius Baer Group Ltd. and Givaudan SA paced declining shares, all falling more than 1 percent. Holcim Ltd. rose 1.2 percent after the world’s second-largest cement maker forecast higher earnings.

The benchmark Swiss Market Index, a measure of the largest and most actively traded companies, dropped 0.3 percent to 6,109.93 at the close in Zurich, trimming its monthly advance to 2.3 percent. The broader Swiss Performance Index declined 0.2 percent today.

“The chairman remained cautious about the economic outlook,” wrote UniCredit SpA Chief U.S. Economist Harm Bandholz in a report to clients. “It seems, however, as if he has become a bit more sanginue about the situation, because of the recent labor market improvement. That reduces the odds for any further policy accommodation in the coming months.”

U.S. and European stocks erased earlier gains after Bernanke, speaking on the first day of his semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress, gave no signal that additional policy easing is under consideration.

Actelion, the maker of the Tracleer lung treatment, dropped 1.6 percent to 34.11 Swiss francs. Julius Baer, which today completed a share-buyback program that began on May 23, lost 1.4 percent to 35.45 francs, and Givaudan, a maker of fragrances, slid 1.3 percent to 854.5 francs.

ECB Lending

Stocks rallied earlier today after the European Central Bank said it will lend 800 financial institutions 529.5 billion euros ($712 billion) in three-year funds, more than economists’ median forecast of 470 billion euros.

Holcim gained 1.2 percent to 59 francs after the company forecast higher 2012 earnings as fourth-quarter profit increased on demand for cement and aggregates.

Operating earnings before interest and taxes, depreciation and amortization rose 5.3 percent to 987 million francs ($1.33 billion) in the quarter. Sales increased 3.9 percent to 5.28 billion francs, beating the average analyst estimate of 4.93 billion francs in a Bloomberg survey.

Swatch Group AG climbed 0.8 percent to 410.20 francs after the watchmaker’s retail partner in China, Hengdeli Holdings Ltd., forecast a “significant increase” in full-year net income. Cie. Financiere Richemont SA, the owner of the Cartier brand, advanced 1.6 percent to 55.55 francs.

Swiss Life Holding AG increased 2.2 percent to 104.30 francs after Switzerland’s biggest life insurer maintained a full-year dividend of 4.50 francs and said it expects to “expand market position” amid a “challenging” environment.

Vontobel Holding AG reiterated its “buy” rating on the stock and said the discount to book value is “too wide” in a report to clients.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Jones in London at sjones35@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Rummer at arummer@bloomberg.net

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