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European Stocks Rise, Led by Pharma Sector News

LONDON (The Deal) -- The main European markets opened in buoyant mood after the Easter break, following the positive close on Wall Street on Monday. With the Ukraine crisis never far from the news, Moscow's Micex Composite was down 0.45% at 1,338.93 at the end of the morning in Russia. But elsewhere the markets scented the return of animal spirits to the pharma sector, which led the risers in London, Frankfurt, Paris and Zurich.

A three-way, multibillion dollar deal between Switzerland's Novartis (NVS - Get Report), Britain's GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and U.S. peer Eli Lilly (LLY) was where the real excitement lay . Novartis will spend up to $16 billion buying GSK's cancer drug assets, and sell Glaxo its vaccines business for $7.1 billion plus royalties. Eli Lilly will buy Novartis' animal health division for $4.5 billion.  By late morning, Novartis was up 2.41% at Swiss francs 76.5; GSK was up 5.52% at 1,645 pence and, ahead of the New York open, Eli Lilly was trading in Frankfurt up 2.07% at 44.21 eurps.

That was only part of the pharma action this morning. Shares in the U.K's AstraZeneca (AZN - Get Report) were up 6.56% at 4,029 pence on speculation of a $101 billion takeover offer from Pfizer (PFE), and other pharma stocks were similarly supported on expectations that activist investor Bill Ackman's Pershing Square Capital  and Valeant Pharmaceuticals  (VRX) will announce a $50 billion offer for Botox maker Allergan (AGN).

One to watch in New York this morning will be the Glazer family's soccer giant Manchester United (MANU). The former U.K. champions fired their manager David Moyes this morning after just 10 months in post, over a string of humiliating defeats. The club now languishes at no. 7 in the Premier League and has been knocked out of the Championship League.

In London, retailers were up on reports of booming sales on Easter Monday, with the top riser in the sector sports retailer Sports Direct up 3.25% at 825 pence. The FTSE was up 0.9% at 6,685.

In Paris, the CAC40 was up 0.77% at 4,466, Frankfurt's DAX index was up 1.07% at 9,510 and in Zurich the main SMI index was up 0.73% at 8,436.

The story wasn't so pretty in Asia. In Japan, the strength of the yen dented the export stocks-heavy Nikkei 225, which  was down 0.85% at 14,388.77. Hong Kong ended down 0.13% at 22,730.68.

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