Europe Higher, Asia Lower

European stock markets were higher on encouraging economic data from the U.S.

European stock markets were higher on Tuesday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange-100 gained 3.80 points, or 0.08%, to close at 4937.30. The FTSE pared losses to end the day flat on the back of encouraging U.S. economic data. The February producer price index showed a 0.4% rise, in line with expectations, while the core PPI rose 0.1%. Investors awaited the Fed's expected interest rate increase and comments signalling the future pace for rate hikes. In London, 02 remained the key faller on weak fiscal year 2005/2006 growth guidance. Rival Vodafone benefited as JP Morgan raised the target price. EasyJet soared after saying first-half of the year trading conditions have remained stable, with revenue per passenger expected to increase by 1% to 2% year-over-year.

Germany's Dax gained 24.33 points, or 0.57%, to close at 4320.69. Frankfurt spent most of the afternoon session tracking the Dow after U.S. PPI numbers suggested inflation is under control, thereby lending weight to the belief the Fed is likely to continue with its 'measured' interest rate hiking policy. Locally, Metro said fiscal year earnings rose 7.7% to 827 million euro boosted by growth at its Eastern European Cash and Carry and Media Markt electronic outlets. The discount retailer opted to leave dividend unchanged. Linde said it expects 2005 earnings and sales to rise as cost reductions start to bear fruit. Linde ruled out further large acquisitions in its gas division while seeing over 150 million euro savings in gas operations. It also sees net growth this year to be more restrained. Lufthansa received approval for its planed takeover of Swiss International from major Swiss shareholders.

In France, the CAC-40 gained 14.18 points, or 0.35%, to close at 4047.18. The CAC40 closed in positive territory, with advances in Sanofi, Casino, and Thomson offsetting losses in Total, Bouygues, and Vinci. Sanofi-Aventis bounced on reports that the French pharma giant and Bristol-Myers Squibb had won a patent case in Canada for Plavix blood thinner treatment. Sanofi declined to comment on the rumors. Casino continued to rise after yesterday's surprise top management change. The retailer appointed Jean-Charles Naouri, majority shareholder with 63% of voting rights. There were expectations that Naouri would pursue a clean-up of the group's asset structure to prepare the company for a merger. In the broader market, Air France-KLM leapt after the CEO claimed the airline was ahead of its business plan and expected the group to achieve savings of 580 million euro by 2008 to 2009, vs. the previous target of 385 million euro to 495 million euro. BNP Paribas sold its 19% of outstanding share capital in Eiffage in the form of a private placement to institutional investors in France and internationally, priced at 91 euro per share.

Asian markets were lower on Tuesday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 lost 37.84 points, or 0.32%, to close at 11,841.97. Shares in Tokyo fell on Tuesday, tracking the downside seen on Wall Street overnight (DJIA lost 0.6% and the S&P 500 declined 0.5%). Investors played cautious ahead of U.S. Federal Reserve's meeting. Fuji TV sank 6.8% on news that the company is considering to raise 100 billion yen to thwart a takeover attempt by Livedoor Co. On the upside, Momiji Holdings jumped 10.6% after it announced plan for capital tie-up with Yamaguchi Bank. Matsuzakaya spiked 13% on hopes that the upcoming Expo 2005 may bring good revenue to the department store operator.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index lost 57.88 points, or 0.42%, to close at 13,776.47, with the day's total mainboard turnover standing at $14.8 billion. The top HSI percentage gainer was Henderson Land, whereas the top laggard was CNOOC. The Hong Kong unemployment rate for December through February declined to 6.1% from 6.4% in the earlier period, and hit a 39-month new low.

Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P lost 46.33 points, or 0.48%, to close at 9,647.22.

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