Swiss Stocks Rise Most in Four Weeks; Helvetia, UBS Climb

Stocks in Switzerland advanced for the first time in five days, as a gauge of Chinese manufacturing rose to a 16-month high, and U.S. President Barack Obama said he will seek congressional approval before ordering military action against Syria.

Helvetia Holding AG gained 3.3 percent after Switzerland’s fourth-biggest insurer said first-half profit increased 15 percent, beating analysts’ estimates. Baloise Holding AG added 4.6 percent after Berenberg Bank recommended buying shares in the country’s third-largest insurer. UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group AG each advanced at least 2 percent.

The Swiss Market Index rose 1.9 percent to 7,891.62 at the close of trading in Zurich, its biggest gain since July 4. The measure lost 3.3 percent last week, its largest weekly retreat since November 2011, amid concern that any military action by the U.S. against Syria may escalate into a larger conflict. The broader Swiss Performance Index gained 1.8 percent today.

“Market sentiment finds support in the Chinese data,” said James Knightley, an economist at ING Bank NV in London. “Obama announcing he is seeking Congress’ approval before any air strikes suggests nothing is imminent on that front, which is also a plus for sentiment.”

China’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index, the official government measure of factory output, rose to 51 in August, beating the median economist estimate and rising from 50.3 in July. HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics issued the final reading of a separate private gauge today that confirmed figures showing the biggest jump in three years for China.

Syria Strike

Obama said he will ask members of Congress to back his plan for a military strike on Syria. Congressional leaders have agreed to debate military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad when lawmakers return from their recess on Sept. 9. Britain’s parliament last week rejected a proposed strike.

The Federal Reserve holds a policy meeting on Sept. 17-18 to decide whether to slow the pace of its bond-purchase program. Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has said that the central bank may consider tapering if the employment outlook improved substantially and the economy grows as forecast.

A report on Sept. 6 may show that U.S. employers added more workers in August. Payrolls probably rose by 180,000 last month, after adding 162,000 the previous month, according to the median forecast of 71 economists in a Bloomberg News survey.

“Friday’s payrolls number is also the big story and we’ll be getting employment indicators through the week so that will be the main theme as market participants firm up their expectations for the payrolls number and how that will impact on the Fed’s taper decision,” said Knightley.

Helvetia Gains

Helvetia added 3.3 percent to 412 Swiss francs. First-half net income rose to 179.5 million francs ($192.4 million) from 156.7 million francs a year earlier. That beat the 164.4 million-franc average analyst projection.

“Helvetia again managed to produce a profit in all geographic segments and offers improving results in the challenging Italian and Spanish markets,” Stefan Schuermann, an analyst at Vontobel Holding AG, wrote in a report.

Baloise increased 4.6 percent to 103 francs, its biggest jump since October 2011, after Berenberg Bank raised its recommendation on the shares to buy from hold, citing the company’s strong first-half results and the upcoming investor day on Oct. 22.

The investor day is “potentially a big catalyst,” Peter Eliot, an analyst at Berenberg, wrote in a note dated Aug. 30. “We believe that Baloise will have a lot to talk about on Oct. 22, which should all be positive.”

Banks Gain

UBS and Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s largest lenders, climbed 3.1 percent to 18.58 francs and 2 percent to 27.36 francs, respectively. A gauge of European banks posted the fifth-biggest gain of the 19 industry groups in the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

Roche Holding AG added 1.9 percent to 236.50 francs. The world’s largest maker of cancer drugs said a new formulation of its Herceptin drug has been approved in Europe for the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer.

Actelion Ltd. gained 1.1 percent to 63.95 francs. The biotechnology company said its macitentan drug cut morbidity and mortality by 45 percent, according to a study. The data show the treatment provides sustained long-term improvement in exercise capacity in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Valora Holding AG jumped 3.2 percent to 195 francs after interim Chief Executive Officer Rolando Benedick told Finanz und Wirtschaft that the company’s search for a new CEO has begun. The newspaper vendor wants to communicate the decision by year-end, according to the report.

The volume of shares changing hands in SMI-listed companies was 15 percent lower than the average of the last 30 days, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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