26 April 2004, 11:55  European stocks start flat; Novartis starts

European shares were flat on Monday but Novartis rose on relief the Swiss drugs giant will not be forking out for Franco-German Aventis , after it was snookered by rival Sanofi . Aventis fell sharply after accepting a sweetened takeover bid from France's Sanofi-Synthelabo, in a deal which promises to create the world's third-largest healthcare group. "Aventis is down because the new bid does not offer much premium over the current share price and many Aventis shareholders have been waiting for the deal to be accepted before cashing in," said one senior European equity trader. Aventis was 6.4 percent lower and Sanofi fell 1.7 percent. Novartis rose 3.65 percent. Germany's closely watched Ifo business climate index for April will be an early focus when it is released at 0800 GMT. It is forecast to fall for the third straight month to 95.1. By 0726 GMT, the FTSE Eurotop 300 index <.FTEU3> was 0.3 percent higher at 1,026 points. The DJ Euro Stoxx 50 index <.STOXX50E> shed 0.01 percent to 2,894 points.
Commerzbank added 3.2 percent. Germany's third-largest bank said it was confident of improved results throughout 2004 after first-quarter profits rose thanks to higher revenues and lower costs and bad-debt provisions. Spain's Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria rose one percent after its first-quarter earnings rose almost 30 percent, outpacing market expectations for a 20 percent rise due to a better performance in its core business.///www.reuters.com

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