Europe's Stocks Finish Higher

Japan's Nikkei index pushed higher, while China's Heng Seng index retreated after hitting 14,000

European stock markets finished higher after a mixed peformance ealier in the session. Automakers were in focus as vehicle sales reports were released. Also, the oil sector was in focus as the market speculated that Total's possible bid for BG Group would most likely be countered by a bid from Shell.

Traders in Britain were also weighing the possibility of a rate hike by the Bank of England on Thursday. The London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index finished up 3.1 points, or 0.07%, to 4.540.1. Heavyweight HSBC lost ground after negative broker comments. Lloyds TSB and Abbey both felt the effects of sympathetic selling. Another sector feeling the heat was utilities, which suffered on the back of downgrades by Dresdner KW. On a more upbeat note, buyers targeted ICI after the group announced the sale of Quest's food unit to Kerry Group. Miners were stronger after DrKW upgraded its metals price forecasts for 2004.

Germany's DAX index added 45.91 points, or 1.13%, to 4,100.34. The strong auto sector helped drive the DAX higher: BMW rose sharply after announcing a 4% increase in February global unit sales. VW gained after reporting that Audi unit sales were up 1-2% from January to February. DaimlerChrysler's reported a slight fall year-over-year in February unit sales of Mercedes.

In Paris, the CAC 40 gained 36.49 points, or 0.97%, to 3,785.36. PSA jumped 3.38% after confirming its target for 2%-3% sales growth in 2004; also, it said expected its share in the west European car market in February to reach more than 15.5%.

In Japan, the stock market hit fresh highs, led by domestic stocks, as investors bought on economic optimism. Japanese stocks were led higher by exporters like Kyocera as bulls were inspired by an uptick in the employment component of the U.S. ISM report for February. The Nikkei 225 index gained 90.39 points, or 0.8%, to 11,361.51.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index lost ground Tuesday after hitting the 14,000 level on Monday. The Hang Seng index fell 187.3 points, or 1.35%, to 13,731.35. Shanghai Industrial continued to be hurt by its recent probe by the ICAC. Hang Seng Bank sank as the lender posted a 3.8% yearly drop in its fiscal year 2003 earnings, disappointing the market. Investors also took the chance to lock in profits from HSBC's recent rally after the banking giant posted its final results yesterday.

On the upside, mainland steel maker China Oriental made its debut on the mainboard today and closed up 24% above its offer price of HKD2.75 per share.

From Standard & Poor's MarketScope

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