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Eu stocks test 20 month highs { March 8 2004 }

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European stocks test 20-month highs
By Darryl Thomson
Published: March 8 2004 7:41 | Last Updated: March 8 2004 12:50

Europe's stocks were testing 20-month highs at midday on Monday, with car stocks again showing strength.

The Eurotop 300 rose 0.4 per cent to 1,026.98, a level last seen in July 2002. Frankfurt's Xetra Dax was up 0.6 per cent at 4,151.49 and the Paris Cac-40 lifted 0.5 per cent to 3,780.85. London's FTSE 100 was marginally lower, however, at 4,545.9.

By the close on Friday, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was little changed on the day but up almost 1 per cent for the week, reversing six straight weeks of declines. The S&P 500 was up 0.2 per cent at 1,156.88, putting the broader index up 1 per cent for the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.1 per cent at 10,596.00, up 0.1 per cent for the week.

Greek stocks led the gains, with the benchmark general share index up 1.1 per cent at 2,517.43 after conservatives won the Sunday elections, ending 11 years of socialist government. National Bank of Greece was the biggest riser on the Eurotop 300, up 3.5 per cent to 23.34. See more on Greek election

On the corporate front, news that German new car registrations fell 4 per cent in February year on year did not damp the advance of auto stocks. Peugeot was up 1.7 per cent at 42.79, Renault 1 per cent higher at 58.45 and Volkswagen 1 per cent ahead at 39.46 as it was reported it would announce cost cuts at Tuesday's annual news conference. DaimlerChrysler was 0.7 per cent better at 36.69 and BMW added 1.3 per cent to 36.03.

Eads, the Airbus builder, swung to a larger than expected profit of 152m, but the stock was down 1 per cent at 18.68 as concerns over its dollar exposure remained and the company's guidance was seen as a little disappointing.

The merger chatter surrounding Deutsche Bank was further fuelled by reports that JP Morgan asked the German government whether it would resist a takeover offer for Germany's biggest bank. The German finance ministry later denied it had been approached. Deutsche was fractionally lower at 74.95. Deutsche shares have been strong recently, rallying 9 per cent last Thursday on talk Citibank would bid. The smaller Commerzbank, also seen as vulnerable, added 0.7 per cent to 15.60 and HVB gained 1.5 per cent to 17.61.

Lloyds TSB's annual profits came in ahead of expectations, but the UK banking group decided against a share buyback to allow it flexibility for acquisitions. The bank's decision to raise its dividend to 23.5p reassured investors fearing a cut, while life assurance arm Scottish Widows increased profitability by 13 per cent. LTSB's strategy had been one of organic growth and the bank calmed the market's initial concerns, saying no acquisitions were imminent. After a lively start, the stock fell 2.8 per cent to 442p.

Earnings before interest and tax at Veolia, the French utility, were in line with expectations and the stock added 0.2 per cent to 24.25.

Aventis, facing a hostile takeover from Sanofi-Synthelabo, added 1 per cent to 62.25 as Sanofi chief executive Jean-Francois Dehecq said the mooted "white knight" merger of Aventis with Novartis would be a completely different project to his drug group's offer.

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