European Indexes End Lower

From Standard & Poor's Investment Services

Major European indexes recouped some of the morning's losses before the close Wednesday. US indexes trimmed gains after US oil inventories data sent WTI back towards US$69/bbl. They had been trading in fine fettle after the US trade gap shrank to US$65.7 billion in February from January's record US$68.6 billion.

UK: The FTSE 100 ended Wednesday's session just below the gain line, supported by index heavyweight Vodafone (VOD)(+0.61%) on news that it has sold its 45% stake in joint venture Verizon Wireless for US$50 billion to its US partner Verizon (VZ). But miners - BHP Billiton (BHP)(-1.86%) and Antofagasta (-2.54%) - weighed on the blue-chip index on softening commodity prices after a record rise Tuesday.

The news of Nasdaq's 'dawn raid' on the LSE (+15.41%) coupled with speculation that the US exchange, which is now the largest LSE shareholder with a close to 15% stake, may make a full bid sent shares rocketing. Scottish Widows also sold 2.7 million shares to Nasdaq for £11.75/share, cutting its stake to 4.3%.

Meanwhile, GUS (-3.06%) fell after it cautioned on its UK retail outlook and said Homebase profits would be hit. WH Smith (+5.28%) said it intends to separate its news distribution and retail businesses. SAB Miller (+3.97%) posted 5% growth in lager volumes for 12 months to end-March. Burberry (+2.85%) reported retail sales up 13%. Laura Ashley (+13.43%) jumped on fiscal year profits, while Austin Reed (+8.84%) turned profitable in fiscal 2005. VT Group (-0.74%) set its sights on a Oman navy deal worth £400 million. Hammerson (-2.45%) traded ex-dividend.

Germany:The Xetra-Dax (-0.12%) ended Wednesday's session a touch lower. Stock-specific, Deutsche Boerse (+1.5%) was pushed higher on takeover speculation following Nasdaq's move. DaimlerChrysler (DCX)(+0.25%) said it will keep at least a 15% stake in EADS, and reiterated that it expects improved profitability this year.

Schering (SHR)(+0.23%) edged higher as the FTD reported that several hedge funds have bought shares to speculate on a higher price than the €86.00 per share Bayer (BAY)(-0.42%) has offered. Citigroup (C) placed 800,000 Allianz (AZ)(-0.41%) shares Tuesday, worth about €105 million.

Private equity group Terra Firma has joined forces with former United Utilities (UU) CEO John Roberts to work on its planned bid for RWE's (+1.07%) unit Thames Water, which may be sold for more than £6.94 billion, according to the FT. BASF (BF)(-0.25%) plans to challenge other producers of genetically modified crops starting next year with the introduction of high-starch potatoes. Premiere (+1.49%) has won the rights to broadcast Formula One until the end of 2007. Key on the broker front, a number of brokers lifted their target on Adidas (-2.33%) amid more confidence about Reebok.

France:The CAC 40 closed 27 points in the red, but off its lows. In France, more than three quarters of stocks traded in the red. Suez (SZE)(-2.15%) was a laggard; the company unveiled plans to issue free share warrants in the case of a takeover bid, as a poison pill defense.

Techs underperformed for the second day running. Bouygues (-0.55%) trimmed losses of more than 3% by reaffirming its commitment to its telecom unit. This came after a French paper reported that Bouygues thought the low market share of the telecom business was insufficient to guarantee its long-term future.

Euronext (+1.74%) shares rose after Nasdaq acquires a stake in the London Stock Exchange, paving the way for merger talks. CDC's real estate spin-off Icade closed 18% above its IPO price of €27.9. Carrefour (-0.60%) reported first quarter sales after the close.

Elsewhere: The SMI ended the session lower - below the 8,000 mark - as heavyweight pharmas and Nestle pulled the index down.

Stockholm apart, Nordic bourses ended Wednesday's session broadly lower.