European Midday Update: Major Bourses Trade in Narrow Ranges

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LONDON -- Europe's markets were trading in narrow ranges midday Thursday, with oil stocks, which are rising on the back of firm crude prices, helping offset weakness in the tech sector. Following the

Bank of England's

decision to keep its benchmark rate at 6%, the

FTSE 100

was down 16.80 points to 6677.90.

Invensys

grabbed the spotlight after an early profit warning early, causing the shares to slump by 35.25% to 169p ($2.43) in very heavy volume. No doubt a few brave bargain hunters will be tempted to dip their toes in the water, but a word of warning: The technical outlook is bleak and the shares need to recover back above 200p in the near term for the picture to improve.

As few expected any move from the BoE, banks held relatively steady. Global giant

HSBC

(HBC)

hit another historic high. The shares touched

10.30, but fell back to stand up 1p at

10.18.

Standard Chartered

, another former colonial bank, got a minor boost after

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

raised its price target to

11.00 from

10.50. Shares rose 5p to

10.04.

Dixons

slipped 7p to 234, following a bearish note from

Credit Suisse First Boston

. The broker downgraded the stock to "hold" from "buy" following Wednesday's annual general meeting.

BP

(BP) - Get Report

hit a new high of 682p, before slipping back to 672, a gain of 15p.

Shell

(SC) - Get Report

spurted up to a stratospheric 620p, before easing to 615.5, a rise of 9.5p.

Although Footsie leviathan

Vodafone

(VOD) - Get Report

pushed higher, gaining 4p to 286, the telecom sector was weak.

British Telecom

(BTY)

fell another 23p to 827. Traders were at a loss to explain the weakness, which looks like it was triggered by stop-loss selling as the stock fell back below 850p.

Cable & Wireless

(CWP)

also found itself out of favor, as the shares slipped 61p to

12.28.

Tech stocks floated in a sea of red, as the

Techmark 100

again fell below the key psychological level 4000, down 73.54 points to 3947.29.

Freeserve

(FREE)

got hit with a double whammy Thursday, following the downgrade for its parent Dixons and the weakness last night in the

Nasdaq

. Midday, the shares were down 14p to 306.

Europe's other major stock markets were also trading narrowly Thursday, as the

CAC 40

in Paris was up 2.28 to 6799.07 and the

Xetra Dax

in Frankfurt was down 20.55 to 7312.47. The

Neuer Markt's

tech-heavy

Nemax 50

index was 4.2 higher to 6298.4.

Telcos were mixed, as

France Telecom

(FTE)

climbed 1.70 euros to 145.30 ($126.49), having reported solid first-half results after the market close Wednesday.

Deutsche Telekom

(DT) - Get Report

fell 0.60 euro to 45.96, after its proposed merger with

VoiceStream

(VSTR)

cleared

Justice Department

scrutiny.

Paris-listed network services outfit

Equant

(ENT) - Get Report

rose 0.8 euro to 53.00 after it was reported that France Telecom was considering presenting itself as an alternative to a merger with

Infonet

(IN)

.

French oil company

Total Fina Elf

(TOT) - Get Report

rose 1.77 euros to 184.20.

In Frankfurt,

Siemens

lost 3.30 euros to hit 179.69,

Epcos

(EPC) - Get Report

fell 2.24 euros to 109.60 and software maker

SAP

(SAP) - Get Report

slipped 4.23 euros to 289.88.