European stocks up, but Nikkei retreats from highs

Associated Press
Updated 2/7/2013 7:31 AM

LONDON -- European stock indexes rose on Thursday, despite a retreat in many Asian markets, ahead of a policy meeting by the European Central Bank and amid mostly upbeat corporate news.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British companies rose almost 0.1 percent to 6,296.97 while Germany's DAX increased 0.2 percent to 7,597.03. France's CAC 40 was up 0.3 percent at 3,652.91.

Wall Street was poised to rise. Dow futures rose 0.1 percent to 13,946 while the broader S&P 500 futures gained 0.1 percent to 1,508.80.

The ECB is expected to keep interest rates on hold, but investors will watch President Mario Draghi's subsequent press conference for hints on what it might do in the future to support growth as the rising value of the euro hurts exporters. The 17-country currency was up 0.3 percent at $1.3567.

Analysts say the ECB is very unlikely to take any action to specifically address the euro, whose value it claims is and should be determined by the markets. It could, however, signal concerns over economic growth, suggesting it could yet loosen monetary policy.

Corporate news was mostly positive in Europe, with shares rising in Credit Suisse, Daimler and Statoil after they announced profit increases. The stock of Alcatel-Lucent rose almost 8 percent on news that the CEO will leave, raising hopes for a change in direction for the troubled telecoms company.

Earlier in Asia, however, stocks ended the day mostly lower. Japan's Nikkei 225 led the way with a 0.9 percent drop to close at 11,357.07 as investors cashed in their gains after the benchmark rose to its highest since September 2008 in the previous session.

South Korea's Kospi dipped 0.2 percent to 1,931.77 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.3 percent to 23,177. Benchmarks in India, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand also fell but Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 4,935.70.

Asia's other big loser was the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China, which ended 0.6 percent lower at 2,418.53. China's smaller Shenzhen Composite Index rose 0.5 percent to 956.73.

Chinese investors were most likely closing out their positions ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday next week.

"The market there has had a good run and people are just being nervous about remaining invested in the market over the Chinese New Year, when the market is closed for a week and they can't do anything," said Andrew Sullivan, director of Asian sales trading at Kim Eng Securities.

He said that holidays in China can be an especially uncertain time for investors because authorities in Beijing often use the occasion to announce new policy measures.

"So I think people are just taking their money off the table," said Sullivan.

Sullivan added that Japan's currency driven market rally may be over as investors bet there's little room for the country's currency to weaken further. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has insisted that the country's central bank act more aggressively to ease monetary policy to help spur economic growth, but Sullivan said investors are worried that "is going to have a knock-on effect to every other currency in the world."

A weaker yen benefits Japan's export manufacturers because it makes their products cheaper in overseas markets. Sony Corp. rose 2.6 percent in Tokyo after it reported a smaller fourth quarter loss as sales inched up thanks mostly to the weaker yen.

The dollar was up 0.3 percent against the Japanese yen, at 93.89 yen.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for March delivery rose 32 cents to $96.94 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 2 cents to end at $96.62 on Wednesday.

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