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The Week in Europe: A Sea of Red

European markets closed lower every day except for Wednesday, with the financial stocks taking an especially hard battering on continued concerns over the state of the U.S. economy.

While the dollar weakened to a new record above $1.54 against the euro and to a 3-year low of 101.82 versus the yen, oil hit an all-time record high of almost $106 per barrel and gold touched on a record high of $991.90 an ounce.

Monday, March 3

Europe's biggest bank HSBC posted a 10 percent rise in group pretax profit and raised its dividend after strong gains in Asia helped it to absorb a $17.2 billion hit from bad debts.

Also in the banking sector, UBS's shares were delayed as fears mounted that the Swiss bank would announce further losses from its exposure to the weakening credit markets.

"Further writedowns appear likely and could be large," said analysts at rival bank Credit Suisse.

German automaker Volkswagen set tongues wagging on M&A speculation after it increased its stake in truckmaker Scania to almost 69 percent, paving the for a possible merger with rival MAN.

In politics, Russian outgoing president Vladimir Putin's successor Dmitry Medvedev sailed through the country's national elections and pledged a policy of continuity in his first official address. >> Click here to view interview

Tuesday, March 4

Quarterly euro zone economic growth almost halved in the last three months of 2007, according to official data, causing waves ahead of the European Central Bank's monthly interest rate decision meeting. >> Click here to view interview

Mining giant BHP Billiton was reportedly in talks with sub-underwriting banks on securing a $55 billion loan backing its hostile bid for rival Rio Tinto.

And staffing company Adecco's fourth-quarter net profit fell 29 percent, less than analysts expected. The company said it expected good growth rates in Europe while U.S. demand will remain weak.

Wednesday, March 5

European stocks closed firmly higher, breaking the losing streak, on optimism regarding the U.S. economy, as data showed a smaller-than-expected contraction in the services sector and on hopes that U.S. bond insurer Ambac was closer to a possible bailout.

French bank Credit Agricole became another victim of the credit crunch after fourth-quarter losses came in larger than expected as it booked $5.01 billion in writedowns.

Sports apparel maker Adidas also failed to meet analysts' expectations on fourth-quarter earnings after sales at its Reebok brand fell and its U.S. business remained weak. The company confirmed its sales and earnings outlook for 2008. >> Click here to view CEO interview

And OPEC decided to keep oil output unchanged at its meeting in Vienna. >> Click here for interview

Thursday, March 6

Both the European Central Bank and the Bank of England decided to keep interest rates on hold and ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet maintained his hawkish tone.

Meanwhile, Euronext-listed affiliate of private equity giant Carlyle Group, Carlyle Capital Corporation (CCC)failed to meet margin calls on sums of more than $60 million.

In the retail sector, Dutch company Ahold announced its first dividend in 5 years after it reported a 9 percent rise in fourth-quarter net profit, beating analysts' expectations, while France's Carrefour unveiled plans to hand back $6.8 billion to shareholders as it sells off property assets after it reported a slightly higher 2007. >> Click here for Ahold CEO interview

Friday, March 7

The markets were back in the red on more economic worries as U.S. non-farm payrolls declined by 63,000 in February and Dutch bank Fortis said its profit halved in the fourth-quarter after a $2.3 billion subprime-related writedown. >> Click here for Fortis CEO interview

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