European stocks end lower


LONDON (AP) - European shares ended weakly Thursday as French retail giant Carrefour and German utility E.On disappointed investors. 

The German DAX Xetra 30 index finished down 0.9 percent to 4,337, while France's CAC 40 index slipped 0.7 percent to 4,038. 

The FTSE 100-share index was down 34 points at 4,962.1. 

Europe's largest retailer Carrefour SA fell 0.8 percent as it said 2004 net profit dropped 14.9 percent to euro1.39 billion (US$1.86 billion). 

Analysts were expecting a profit of euro1.69 billion (US$2.26 billion), according to JCF Group. The group had already reported 2004 sales climbed 3.1 percent. 

"The results are ... perhaps a touch disappointing to the market given how strong the fourth quarter was and how expectations had built to today,'' Merrill Lynch said. 

Fellow supermarket operator Delhaize Group fell over 7 percent in Brussels on margin concerns.  

It said 2004 earnings rose 23.5 percent to euro211.5 million (US$283.2 million).  

The Belgian international food retailer also said it's agreed to buy Belgium's Cash Fresh for euro113 million (US$151 million) in cash. 

Vivendi Universal SA fell nearly 3 percent as it said it plans a 60 euro cents per share dividend, below the range broker Bear Stearns had forecast. 

Vivendi said it swung to a 2004 net profit of euro754 million (US$1.01 billion), well ahead of forecasts and its first annual profit since 2000. 

It also narrowed its debt to euro3.13 billion (US$4.19 billion) from euro11.56 billion (US$15.48 billion) a year ago. 

Against the market trend, German automaker BMW AG shares added 3 percent as it said net profit in 2004 rose by 14.1 percent to euro2.2 billion (US$2.9 billion). 

It will propose a share buyback of up to 10 percent of the carmaker's stock. 

"The results were OK, but the most interesting thing to me was the share buyback,'' said Adam Collins, an analyst at Commerzbank. 

E.On AG dropped 2.8 percent as it said it said net income fell to euro4.3 billion (US$5.8 billion) from euro4.6 billion (US$6.2 billion), at the bottom of expectations.  

Sales grew 6 percent to euro49.1 billion (US$65.7 billion). 

It also said it plans to sell its nearly 43 percent stake in German specialty chemicals group Degussa AG and return the full value of the stake to shareholders.  

Shares in Degussa fell 0.8 percent. 

French hotels group Accor SA rose 3.6 percent to euro38.31 (US$51.29) as Lehman Brothers upgraded it to "overweight'' from "equal-weight'' and raised its target price to euro45 (US$60) from euro29 (US$38.82). 

The broker told clients that private real estate fund Colony Capital's euro1 billion (US$1.3 billion) investment comes as Accor begins to monetize capital gains in the property portfolio and to accelerate investment in its core budget hotel brands in emerging markets. - AP 

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