Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Munich, Swiss Reinsurance rise

BLOOMBERG , LONDON

European benchmark stock indexes rose for the third week in four, fueled by optimism the US-led war in Iraq will end in weeks, not months.

Munich Re and Swiss Reinsurance Co gained after JP Morgan Chase & Co said recent declines that pushed some reinsurers to their lowest levels in more than seven years made the shares worth buying. Chemical companies such as Clariant AG rose as the price for an oil-based raw material fell.

The Dow Jones Stoxx 50 Index climbed 1.2 percent Friday and was up 3.6 percent from a week earlier. The broader Stoxx 600 Index added 1.1 percent to 188.31, for a five-day jump of 3.1 percent. The indexes, which tumbled more than 5 percent last week, advanced even after the release of economic statistics such as falling payrolls in the US, Europe's biggest export partner.

"News coming from Iraq has been setting the pulse in markets for the past two weeks," said Jaime Hoyos, who helps manage the equivalent of US$536 million at Indosuez Fondos SA in Madrid. "Economic data has been below expectations, but markets are ignoring that fact."

The US economy lost 108,000 jobs in March, almost three times the number expected, as growth faltered with the advent of war, the Labor Department said. Economists had expected payrolls to fall by 35,000 after a 308,000 drop in February, based on the median of 67 forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey.

All 18 of the Stoxx 600 industry groups gained this week, led by chemical and automobile stocks. The worst-performing index on the Stoxx 600 was retail, which added 0.5 percent.

The 17 Western European benchmark indexes also advanced.

France's CAC 40 added 3.8 percent in the week, Germany's DAX climbed 5.3 percent and the UK's FTSE 100 rose 2.9 percent.

Units of Iraq's Republican Guard probably have retreated into Baghdad to prepare for an attack, and allied troops may face tough resistance, US and UK officials said yesterday. As many as 2,500 Republican Guard soldiers surrendered to US forces advancing on the capital city from Kut, Cable News Network reported, citing an unidentified US military spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

JP Morgan Thursday raised its recommendation on reinsurers, which provide coverage to insurers rather than to individuals or businesses, to "overweight" from "neutral." The bank also raised ratings on Munich Re and Hannover Re to ``overweight'' from "neutral." Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, climbed 0.7 percent to SF77.30, for a 9.3 percent gain this week.

The company's earnings estimates were raised to 6.7 francs a share for this year and 8.8 francs for next year, from SF4.6 and SF7.3, respectively, by JP Morgan. Last month, the shares dropped to their lowest since September 1995.

Munich Re gained 4.9 percent to 64.10 euros, advancing 8.4 percent from the previous Friday's close. The stock has fallen enough to account for concern about the erosion of capital as stock markets slump, JP Morgan said.

Hannover Re, the world's fifth-largest reinsurer, jumped 7.3 percent to 19.34 euros, for a gain of 4.8 percent in the week.

Clariant and BASF AG paced chemical company gains as prices dropped for naphtha, a key raw material for petrochemicals that can be processed into products ranging from plastics to artificial sweeteners.

UPM-Kymmene Oyj, the world's third-biggest papermaker, fell 8.3 percent to 11.56 euros yesterday, bringing its drop this week to 7.9 percent. First-quarter profit at the Helsinki-based company fell about 50 percent because of lower paper prices and a weaker US dollar against the euro, it said on Thursday.

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