European Indexes Close Mixed

Oil issues felt the pinch from falling crude prices as pharmaceuticals drove the action in Switzerland

From Standard & Poor's European MarketScope

Among the major European indexes, only Germany gained Thursday. Wall Street lacked impetus, despite core consumer prices rising 0.2% m/m, in-line with forecasts; while net capital inflows grew to a record US$106.8 billion. West Texas Intermediate Crude slid, but continued to trade above US$60.

Germany: The Xetra-Dax index ended Thursday's session marginally positive. In Frankfurt, Deutsche Bank (DB )(-0.16%) traded lower on talk that it may face legal action as a property investment unit it owns froze a €6 billion real-estate fund to prevent a run of withdrawals. In another development, Deutsche wants to reduce its industrial holdings, but doesn't plan an imminent disposal of its 10% in Linde (-0.59%).

Elsewhere, BMW (-1.02%) is set to pass DaimlerChrysler's (+0.4%) Mercedes-Benz cars in worldwide sales for the first time since 1993, the WSJ reported. VW (-0.67%) may complete the sale of its IT services unit, worth about €450 million, soon, and has received several initial bids for its car rental unit, worth up to €2.5 billion, including debt, the FT wrote.

Broader market-listed Celesio (+3.22%) plans to expand its drugstore business in Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands, CEO Fritz Oesterle told FTD. Europe's CHMP drug panel is backing use of Schwarz Pharma's (+8.11%) neupro. Earnings-wise, Techem (+0.16%) saw its fiscal year net profit slide a worse-than-expected 10% to €39.9 million. But the energy and metering group will pay a dividend, its first since its IPO in 2000.

United Kingdom: The FTSE 100 lost further ground in late trade to end with a 0.47% loss. In London, miners and oil stocks led the downfall, as copper and crude prices eased, but there were many stocks on the move. Whitbread (+0.32%) said performance as a whole continues to be in line with expectations, despite challenging conditions.

Newspaper group Trinity Mirror (-1.03%) published a downbeat trading statement, with advertising revenues down 7.9% in the last 5 months, as the downward trend in advertising continues and inflationary and other cost pressures expected in 2006. MyTravel (+7.51%) jumped after a positive update, saying Summer 2006 bookings in the UK remained encouraging and it will target margins rather than volumes.

Cookson (+5.54%) soared after selling its Laminates business for US$91 million. Spirent (+1.98%) climbed on the back of the sale of its network products group for £288.9 million. The LSE (-0.56%) declined after Macquarie launched a £5.80 per share takeover bid. The market sees the success as highly unlikely but hopes another bidder will emerge.

France: The CAC 40 index (-0.04%) narrowed losses before the close Thursday. Total (TOT )(-0.92%) was the main laggard. In Paris, Thales (+0.61%) finally confirmed its acquisition of a 25% stake in DCN. The two groups will combine their shipbuilding assets, creating a French giant ahead of the expected European consolidation. CEO Denis Ranque said he expects the tie-up to boost earnings in year one. He also said the company still stands a chance of winning the auction for BAE's Atlas Elektronic.

Meanwhile, Publicis (-1.12%) slipped after downgrades by Cheuvreux and Fideuram Wargny on valuation grounds. The company confirmed fiscal year targets yesterday but provided a cautious fiscal 2006 outlook. Guy Dolle was confirmed as the CEO of Arcelor (-1.39%), when investors had expected a successor to be named as he stands to retire by the end of 2006. Carrefour (+1.87%) was added to the Deutsche Bank pan-European focus list. Lastly, broker upgrades benefited Vinci (+2.96%) and Eiffage (+3.77%).

Elsewhere: Amsterdam's AEX ended the session higher. The index was sustained by heavyweight Philips (PHG )(+3.99%) which announced its plans to either spin off or sell the Semiconductor business. The brokers subsequently raised targets. Just behind were ING (ING )(+0.56%) and ABN Amro (ABN )(+0.37%). The latter saw Deutsche Bank lifting its target to €24.0 from €22.9. On a negative note, Royal Dutch Shell (RDS )(-1.06%) capped gains, and was hit by sliding WTI prices.

The SMI (-0.78%) closed near the 7,450 mark. In Switzerland, the central bank raised interest rates today for the first time in more than a year. Many are anticipating another hike in March. On the corporate news front, Nobel Biocare (-4.95%) slid for the fourth consecutive day, as Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock to neutral from buy. Novartis (NVS )(-1.39%) was another loser in the SMI as an EMEA committee recommended against European approval of Zelnorm for women with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. Roche (-0.89%) fell as French peer Sanofi (SNY ) said preliminary results of clinical trials of a candidate H5N1 pre-pandemic influenza vaccine demonstrated a good immune response.

Prepared by Zaida Espana, Valerie Vidal, Michael Sanderson, Mariella Mongio, Alexander Wisch, Holly Cook, Emma Stevenson, Pawan Girglani, Julien Manrique, and Rocio Opazo-Aniotz (Standard & Poor's); Alex Halperin (BusinessWeek Online)

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