Europe, Asia Lower

European and Asian stock markets were lower Thursday as a strong dollar and restrained oil prices could not keep Wall Street stocks afloat

European stock markets were lower Thursday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 lost 15.40 points, or 0.31%, to close at 4945.40. A strong pharma sector helped the FTSE to contain losses, although weak metals and mining and oil and gas stocks offset the gains. Wall Street failed to provide support as both the Dow and the Nasdaq hit new intraday lows for 2005, hurt by profit concerns regarding Apple. At home, drug stocks like AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Shire Pharmaceuticals, received a boost up after positive guidance from U.S. rival Merck while a key U.S. court ruling on Eli Lilly's Zyprexa might show U.S. courts are keen to defend patents. Rolls-Royce said 2004 earnings per share would be lifted by 29% under IFRS and received a further boost as S&P Ratings raised its credit rating to BBB+. Crude oil came off earlier lows, with WTI now around $50.60 per barrel, but still weighed on market giants BP and Shell.

In Germany, the Dax lost 3.64 points, or 0.08%, to close at 4402.05. The Frankfurt index ended virtually flat as a strengthening dollar and some restraint in oil prices was not enough to support the Dow Jones Industrial Average in early trade. U.S. weekly jobless claims came in at 330,000 vs. a revised 340,000 the week before, while business inventories were in line with estimates, up 0.5%. Among shares on the move today, BASF continued yesterday's sell-off after Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock on fears of slowing growth in the chemical sector. Thyssen eased as Wall Street Journal suggested that demand for steel in the U.S. is starting to slow with weakening prices prompting steelmakers to cut back production. Schering reiterated 2005 sales growth guidance and sees Yasmin 2005 sales profit growing faster than sales. The group confirmed 18% operating margin for 2006. Allianz's healthcare unit reported fiscal year profits up 20% to 60 million euro. Retail stocks including Metro fell after HDE said it expects German retail sales will fall between 0.5% to 0.75% this year.

France's CAC 40 lost 5.74 points, or 0.14%, to close at 4111.11. Paris ended a touch lower while U.S. stocks trade on negative ground following a disappointing outlook from Apple Computer. The CAC was pulled lower by Total as the oil price remains below $51.00 per barrel. Arcelor also weighed down the market on concerns about steel pricing going forward. Among positives, Sanofi outperformed ahead of a key U.S. court ruling on Eli Lilly's Zyprexa, which might show U.S. courts are keen to defend patents, such as Sanofi's Plavix. Danone pleased investors by topping comparable sales estimates with a 5.1% increase. The group also reiterated fiscal 2005 sales growth of 5% to 7% and earnings per share growth of at least 10%.

Asian markets were also lower Thursday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225, lost 74.35 points, or 0.64%, to close at 11,563.17. Exporters led the fall after a report showed a smaller-than-expected 0.3% gain in March U.S. retail sales adding to evidence energy costs are curbing consumer spending. Sony fell 1.4%, Honda Motor slid 0.9%, and Toyota Motor declined 0.3%. Semiconductor-related shares dropped as ASML, Europe's biggest maker of equipment used in semiconductor production, said orders this quarter will be lower than the previous three months. Advantest slumped 2%, Tokyo Electron lost 0.8% and Nikon Corp was 3.7% lower. Retailers were among the biggest laggards after Mitsukoshi cut its two-year sales and profit forecasts because of a decline in consumer spending. Takashimaya lost 2.9% and Isetan fell 1.5%. Oil-related counters extended their decline after crude prices fell to a seven-week low. Crude oil futures fell 3.2% to $50.22 a barrel in New York, the lowest close since Feb. 18. Nippon Oil fell 2.2% and Teikoku Oil dropped 1.2%.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng lost 27.22 points, or 0.20%, to close at 13,772.40. Of the 33 HSI constituents, 11 fell and 14 rose. Leading laggards were CNOOC, China Merchants, and Denway Motors. Top HSI percentage gainers were Hutchison Whampoa, Cheung Kong Holdings, and CKI Holdings. Hutchison is bidding for frequencies to offer 3G mobile telephone services in Poland. Five firms bid on Tuesday in Poland's tender for a single block of new mobile-phone frequencies for the UMTS standard, which allows 3G functions such as live streaming video.

Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P lost 82.51 points, or 0.87%, to close at 9,409.61.

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