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January 2, 2007    

European utilities up on new bids rumors

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by Elaine Frei

European equities markets began the new year with gains on Tuesday. The FTSE Eurofirst 300 added 1.2 percent to 1,501.83, the first time it has closed above 1,500 since February 2001. Meanwhile, Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax gained 1.2 percent and the CAC 40 was up 1.4 percent.

Utilities were still in the grip of bids rumors. The Suez/Gaz de France merger looked to be in more trouble. A court decision put the deal in doubt when it ruled that the merger cannot go further until European Union energy markets are fully liberalized on July 1. Added to that, there were rumors that a French billionaire is considering a bid for Suez, which he would then break up. According to these reports, he would sell the company’s energy assets to Gaz de France, but its environmental division would go to Veolia Environment. All the talk left Gaz de France steady at €34.85, while Suez added 1.9 percent to €39.90 after going as high as €40.50 during the session. Veolia, on the other hand, dropped 4.1 percent to €56 after significant gains on Friday.

In the retail sector, German retailer Metro added 5.7 percent to €51.06 on reports that one of its largest shareholders is going to raise its stake. The gains came even though the reports were denied. Also helping was a report from the German Retail Association that showed sales up substantially in December in the face of an expected drop.

Steelmaker ThyssenKrupp was 2.8 percent higher to €36.69 as consolidation hopes for the sector were given another boost by the news that Harris Steel of Canada has agreed to be taken over by US company Nucor.

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