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Swiss Stocks Advance; Novartis, Roche Shares Lead Gains

Swiss stocks rose, after posting two straight weeks of gains, as health-care stocks advanced and as investors awaited the outcome of the Italian elections.

Novartis AG and Roche Holding AG climbed 1.4 percent each. Holcim Ltd., the biggest cement maker, advanced after MainFirst Bank AG recommended the shares.

The Swiss Market Index gained 0.5 percent to 7,594.35 at the close of trading in Zurich. The benchmark measure has jumped 11 percent so far this year as U.S. lawmakers agreed on a compromise federal budget and the Swiss franc depreciated against the euro. The broader Swiss Performance Index also added 0.5 percent today.

“The Italian election has been on everybody’s mind,” said Konstantin Giantiroglou, head of investment advisory at Neue Aargauer Bank in Brugg, Switzerland. “Market participants are probably prepared for all outcomes.”

The volume of shares changing hands in SMI-listed companies was 9 percent greater than the average of the last 30 days, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Italy may be left with a hung parliament as partial results of the country’s election today suggest Silvio Berlusconi may have built a blocking minority in the Senate to deny outright victory to Pier Luigi Bersani.

A SkyTG24 Tecne poll earlier showed the populist campaigns of Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy failed against those backing the austerity program. Staying the course in the world’s third-biggest debtor is crucial to Europe’s effort to contain the turmoil that forced Berlusconi out of office in 2011.

Japan Stimulus

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may nominate Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda as Bank of Japan governor, a government official with knowledge of the discussions said. Kuroda said earlier this month additional monetary easing can be justified for 2013.

“Speculation on the next Bank of Japan appointment will have markets cheering in the short-term, but looking beyond, an expansionary monetary policy can’t cure the illnesses on a sustainable basis,” said Giantiroglou.

In China, manufacturing is expanding at the slowest pace in four months, a private survey showed. The preliminary reading of a purchasing managers’ index was 50.4 in February, according to a statement from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics.

Novartis gained 90 centimes to 65 francs, contributing the most to the SMI’s increase. The company’s omalizumab drug improved the itch of chronic hives in a study published yesterday.

Roche Rallies

Roche, the world’s largest maker of cancer drugs, added 2.90 francs to 215.10 francs, The shares gained 1.5 percent on Friday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared Roche and ImmunoGen Inc.’s breast-cancer therapy.

The approval is “an important milestone for Roche. It is a further incremental step towards replacing the bestseller breast-cancer treatment Herceptin before patent expiry in 2015-16,” Bank Sarasin & Cie. analyst David Kaegi, who has a buy rating on the stock, said.

Holcim increased 0.5 percent to 73 francs after MainFirst raised the stock to outperform from neutral, meaning investors should buy the stock.

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