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ISEQ slips into red on slow day

IT was a broadly lacklustre day for Irish stocks yesterday, despite the fact that the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index climbed to its highest level in two years amid speculation that economic growth will spur stock prices higher this year.

Some analysts believe the UK's FTSE-100 could breach the 7,000 mark in 2011, which would mark a roughly 15pc jump from its current level and bring the index to its highest point ever and just above the reading it was at in late 1999. Still, most major European indices closed down yesterday.

At home, respectable gains by some stocks failed to prevent the overall main index dip slightly into the red for the day, with the ISEQ Overall Index shedding just four points to end the session at 2,865.83.

The exchange's heavyweight, building materials firm CRH, continued its slide, falling 1.2pc or 18c to €14.39. That was hot on the heels of a more than 4pc decline on Tuesday over fears that US highway building funding could be curtailed if fuel taxes are diverted to other projects.

"With multi-year re-authorisation of the federal highway and transit programs now more than 15 months overdue, this sends the wrong signal to the States and Wall Street," Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association was reported as saying yesterday.

Shares in clinical trials company Icon soared over 7pc or €1.13 to €17.04. Trading in its ADRs in New York was much more subdued, with the stock flat at lunchtime there yesterday having jumped on Tuesday after Zack's Investment Research upgraded it from "underperform" to "neutral".

Elsewhere, on the medical front shares in pharmaceutical firm Elan put in another good day, adding 5.7pc or 27c to €5. That was on top of a more than 9pc rise on Wednesday.

Other movers included Allied Irish Banks which sank 7.7pc to 28.6c, while Bank of Ireland ended the session over 4pc lower at 33.4c. Irish Life & Permanent finished more than 6pc lower at 93c.

National benchmark indices gained in five of the 14 western European markets that were open yesterday. France's CAC-40 was little changed, while Germany's DAX rose 0.6pc. The FTSE-100 lost 0.4pc as basic-resource companies fell.

KBC Groep, Belgium's biggest bank, tumbled 3.1pc to €25.85 after saying it will take additional charges of as much as €330m related to its Irish loan book and "irregularities" at KBC Lease UK.

ARM, which designs semiconductors that power Apple's iPhone, gained 2.3pc to £4.82 (€5.73) after Microsoft said it would work with ARM-based chips in new devices.

Irish Independent