European Stocks Flat on Rise in German Unemployment

LONDON (The Deal) -- European stocks were little changed on Wednesday, as an unexpected rise in German unemployment overshadowed a gain in economic sentiment for the 18-nation eurozone.

In London, the FTSE 100 rose 0.02% to 6,846.42. The DAX in Frankfurt rose 0.09% to 9,949.41, while in Paris the CAC added 0.06% to 4,532.48.

In May, German unemployment rose unexpectedly -- increasing for the first time in five months and causing investor jitters about the pace of recovery in Europe's largest economy.

The number of jobless rose a seasonally adjusted 23,937 to 2.905 million in May, the German Federal Labor Agency said in its latest report out of Nuremberg. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before the data had been betting on a drop of 15,000, but the Labor Office attributed the weak numbers to the unusually mild winter, with seasonal jobs starting earlier than usual.

The adjusted jobless rate was steady at 6.7%, its lowest in more than 20 years.

The Labor Report offset positive news from the European Commission, which showed a greater-than-expected rise in executive and consumer sentiment in May in countries sharing the common currency. Specifically, the index rose by 0.7 points to 102.7 in May. A separate report showed a slight increase in the Business Climate Indicator for the euro area.

In London, the biggest decline was posted by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The stock fell 1.53% to 1,609.5 pence after the pharmaceutical company revealed that it was the subject of a criminal probe in the U.K. in connection with allegations in China that employees bribed medical professionals to boost sales. In a statement, GSK said it's committed to running its business to the highest ethical standards and that it will continue to "cooperate fully" with the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office.

Shares of Scottish engineering company Weir and Metso, a Finnish maker of mining and construction equipment, also both retreated, after Weir pulled the plug on its sweetened offer valuing the unwilling target at around 4.6 billion euros. Weir had sweetened its bid by 13% in an offer valuing each Metso share at around 30.49 euros, above Metso's 22.75 euros share price March 26, the day before Metso's first proposal.

Weir shares fell 0.77% to 2,584 pence in London, while in Helsinki Metso shed 4.27% to 27.83 euros.

In Switzerland, shares in Nestle got a slight boost after the food giant announced plans to buy commercial rights to a range of skincare treatments from Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) for $1.8 billion. The transaction includes global rights for Sculptra anti-wrinkle treatment as well as rights to corrective facial aesthetic treatments Restylane, Perlane and Emervel in the United States and Canada.

In Germany, shares in German fashion retailer Hugo Boss fell 3.35% to 20.22 euros, amid a further sell-down by its largest shareholder, buyout shop Permira.

Permira, which owns the stake through its Red & Black Lux S.a.r.l. investment vehicle, announced late Tuesday that it's placing up to 3.96 million Hugo Boss shares, equal to a 5.6% stake, in an accelerated book building process. The move will increase the stock's free float to around 48% and leave Permira as the largest shareholder with a 55.62% stake.

Hugo Boss said it expects the higher free float to boost the stock's attractiveness among institutional investors and to increase its weighting in Germany's MDAX mid-cap stock index.

Based on the latest trading price, Hugo Boss has a market capitalization of around 7.09 billion euros.

Asian markets were mostly higher, boosted by strong economic data out of the U.S. on Tuesday including a May rise in consumer confidence.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei added 0.24% to 14,671, while in Hong Kong the Hang Seng advanced 0.59% to 23,080.03.

Shares in Sands China fell more than 2% in Hong Kong, a day after Overland Park, Kan.-based fund manager Waddell & Reed Financial Inc. sold a $1.38 billion stake in the Macao-based resort and casino operator and shifted most of its holdings to Sands' parent company, Las Vegas Sands (LVS).

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