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Stock Market Movers and Shakers in Q1

The markets took a stream of negative news and weak economic growth indicators in stride during the first quarter

Rouhan Sharma 3 April, 2013 | 5:52PM

If there was a significant difference in Europe stock market action in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the previous few quarters, it was how little the major markets actually moved. And investors must be relieved, given the roller-coaster ride that equity markets took during much of 2012.

According to data from MSCI, for the quarter ended March 28, 2013, the French and German stock markets (Large + Mid Cap) lost 0.6% and 0.7% each, respectively. The UK’s FTSE 350 Index gained 0.6%.

The year started on a positive note as equities logged minor gains by the end of January. Stocks were given a boost after lawmakers in the US agreed on ways to avoid automatic tax increases known as the "fiscal cliff," and after ECB President Mario Draghi said economic activity was stabilising and that he expected a recovery in the second half.

But the International Monetary Fund cut its global growth estimates to 3.5% for 2013, down from the 3.6% it had projected in October last year. The World Bank also lowered its forecast for global economic growth to 2.4% from an earlier estimate of 3% growth.

Economic reports, too, gave mixed signals, as data first indicated the eurozone's downturn eased in December and the final Purchasing Managers' Index rose to a nine-month high. But German GDP figures showed the region's largest economy shrank 0.5% in the fourth quarter, tempering investor enthusiasm.

With no definite cues to push the stock markets either way, politics took centre stage for a while in February, as Italy held general elections that proved inconclusive, worrying already-jittery investors; while in recession-hit Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was charged with corruption.

Adding to downbeat comments on economic growth made by the IMF and the World Bank in the previous month, the European Commission in February said it expected the eurozone to recover more slowly than it previously anticipated, returning to growth in 2014 and not in this year. The EC lowered its forecasts for the eurozone's GDP growth to 0.1% in 2013, compared with an earlier estimate of 0.3%.

In some positive news in the month, European Union leaders agreed on the bloc's 2014-20 budget of EUR 960 billion, after a deadlock in November over the issue. But equities still gave back their gains from the previous month.

In March, the stock market in the world's largest economy rose to record highs after US Federal Reserve vice chairman Janet Yellen said the central bank would stick to its monthly $85 billion bond-buying programme. Also, economic data released for the month of February showed an increase in retail sales as well as a bigger-than-expected rise in non-farm payrolls, which brought down the rate of unemployment.

But the excitement was short-lived as the eurozone crisis flared once again. Out of the blue Mediterranean, the tiny island nation of Cyprus shot into world headlines as investors awoke on a March morning to hear the country was planning to tax its citizens' bank deposits in order to raise funds of about EUR 5.8 billion, a precondition to receiving international financial aid.

After hectic developments amid large-scale civil protests, much of them over the last few days in March and which are still ongoing, Cyprus reached a deal with its lenders to protect itself from bankruptcy. The country said it would raise the required funds through tax increases and privatisations, and--in an unprecedented move--by closing the Laiki (Popular) Bank, whose bondholders and depositors would face significant losses. Those accounts would be frozen and used to pay off the bank's debts.

In other negative news, economic data showed an on-quarter contraction of 0.6% for the eurozone in the fourth quarter and effectively shut the door on any hopes of a rise in the markets. In latest developments, Spain's highest court is overseeing the investigation into whether the ruling Popular Party took bribes from big companies, even as Spain's apex bank said earlier last week that the country will sink deeper into recession this year.

A month after Italy held general elections but failed to elect a new premier, ratings agency Fitch downgraded the country's long-term foreign and local currency issuer default ratings to BBB+ from A- with a warning of a further downgrade, citing political instability.

In another recent, significant development, European Union leaders rejected the proposed budget that they agreed to in February, as leaders within the EU demanded changes in the manner the money would be spent, and also the option to be able to raise the overall sum in future.

Looking ahead, while investors will be hoping that economic data from the eurozone begins to show some improvement sooner rather than later, they will also be on edge as US lawmakers debate the "fiscal cliff" situation once more after temporarily suspending the nation's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit to May 19.

In conclusion, it's probably no exaggeration to say that while the European stock markets have not moved much in the last quarter, it has been an uneasy calm.

Stocks on the Move

Healthcare, information technology, industrials, telecommunications, consumer staples and consumer discretionary companies all logged positive gains in the first quarter.

The healthcare segment was among the best-performing across Europe, with major companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and  AstraZeneca (AZN) gaining as much as 13% each over the quarter. Both UK-based companies announced measures to turn things around in the face of declining sales, while AstraZeneca, under a new CEO, also reorganised senior management and announced a global restructuring resulting in a reduction of head count by approximately 2,300.

Over in Paris,  Sanofi (SAN) was up 11% along with a 12% advance for German drug major  Bayer (BAYN).

In the consumer staples category, household and personal products, and food products and beverages were among the strong gainers. Retailers also performed well, with stocks such as  Tesco (TSCO) gaining over 13% and  J Sainsbury (SBRY) up over 9%.  Carrefour (CA) picked up more than 10%.

In information technology, among semiconductor firms, British microprocessor designer  ARM Holdings (ARM) gained about 20%, while its peer STMicroelectronics (STM) was up 14%. In Frankfurt,  Infineon Technologies (IFXA) only managed a marginal 2.6% gain.

Software and services firms had a lacklustre quarter, with companies such as  SAP (SAP) up a marginal 3% while  Cap Gemini (CAP) gained only 8%.

Among financials, only insurers logged positive returns over the quarter, while banks, at the heart of the euro crisis, generally fared badly. French banking groups  BNP Paribas (BNP) and  Societe Generale (GLE) fell 6% and 9%, respectively, while  Credit Agricole (ACA) was up 6%. Germany's second-largest bank, Commerzbank (CBK), dropped 20% during the quarter, as it suffered a few broker downgrades, announced job cuts in an effort to improve earnings and sold new shares to existing shareholders in order to raise funds to service loans and debts. Meanwhile,  Deutsche Bank (DBK) was down over 6%.

Automakers turned in a mixed performance. German auto majors  BMW (BMW) and  Volkswagen (VOW) gave up 7.2% and 9.5%, respectively.  Daimler (DAI) was up a marginal 2.5%.  Peugeot (UG) was up 3.3% in Paris, while  Renault (RNO) drove up 20%.

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Securities Mentioned in Article
Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar
Rating
ARM Holdings PLC956.00 GBX-2.75
AstraZeneca PLC4,042.50 GBX2.08
Bayer AG96.83 EUR-0.50
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG92.68 EUR-1.43
BNP Paribas54.96 EUR-1.28
Capgemini52.67 EUR0.15
Carrefour28.99 EUR-0.72
Commerzbank AG13.33 EUR0.53
Crédit Agricole11.47 EUR-0.82
Deutsche Bank AG32.05 EUR-0.67
GlaxoSmithKline PLC1,642.50 GBX0.15
Infineon Technologies AG ADR8.23 EUR-0.83-
Peugeot13.45 EUR-1.28
Renault SA74.26 EUR-1.55
Sainsbury (J) PLC319.80 GBX-0.22
Sanofi77.05 EUR-0.10
Sap AG57.60 EUR-0.52
Societe Generale SA43.85 EUR-0.41
STMicroelectronics NV EUR6.67 EUR0.68
Tesco PLC297.35 GBX1.69
About Author

Rouhan Sharma  Rouhan Sharma is an assistant site editor for Morningstar.com based in Mumbai, India.