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European Earnings: Commerzbank Disappoints

Commerzbank had the most disappointing earnings results out of Europe Wednesday, as the German bank's first-quarter net profit fell 54 percent and it announced a 244 million euro ($377.9 million) writedown.

Pretax profit fell to 410 million euros in the first quarter and the profit target for the year is drifting out of reach as the financial markets crisis squeezes investments further, triggering more writedowns, the bank warned.

"It is going to be very hard to reach the good result of the previous year again," Chief Executive Klaus-Peter Mueller said.

The bank had originally hoped to reach a net profit of 1.9 billion euros this year, in line with 2007 earnings.

Commerzbank's share price has tumbled by almost 40 percent over the past year as worries about the cost of its subprime bill as well as fear of recession grew.

France Telecom in Line

The French telecommunications company reported a 2.8 percent rise in underlying first-quarter profit, broadly in line with forecasts.

Europe's third-largest telecoms operator by market value reiterated it was not in talks with Nordic operator TeliaSonera.

France Telecom made earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of 4.79 billion euros in the three months to March 31, against 4.66 billion last year.

The first-quarter performance, which it said was helped by improved trading in its western European mature markets, was slightly better than expectations of 4.72 billion euros based on the average of 10 forecasts compiled by Reuters Estimates.

The French group, which ranks behind Spain's Telefonica and Britain's Vodafone in terms of market value, confirmed its full-year financial targets, adding it expected the dividend for 2008 to be above 1.3 euros a share.

The operator generated first-quarter sales of 13.03 billion euros, up 1.4 percent on the same period last year and slightly above forecasts of 12.98 billion based on the average from 11 forecasts compiled by Reuters Estimates.

AkzoNobel Profit Drops Less than Forecast

The Netherlands-based chemical group said first-quarter core profit dropped 2 percent, less than most analysts had forecast, as it felt the impact of higher raw material prices and a weak U.S. dollar.

Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT), excluding one-offs and fair value adjustments for the ICI acquisition, were 285 million euros ($441.4 million), the world's biggest paint company said in a statement.

Average analyst expectations in a Reuters survey saw a drop to 264 million euros, with estimates ranging from 198 million to 317 million.

AkzoNobel said it remained confident of outgrowing its markets and at least maintaining results in line with 2007's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of 1.87 billion euros.

First-quarter revenue from continuing operations was 3.51 billion euros, against analyst expectations of 3.56 billion.

It is the first time the results include Britain's Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which Akzo bought for 8 billion pounds ($15.7 billion) in January, and the Dutch firm gives separate numbers for decorative paints.

EBITDA at Akzo's decorative paints unit rose 3 percent to 102 million euros.

>> Video: Aegon CEO on 78% Drop in Earnings

Corporate Express Earnings at Low End

Also out of Amsterdam, office goods supplier Corporate Express posted first-quarter operating profit of 50.5 million euros ($78.21 million), at the low end of expectations as the economic downturn hit sales.

The company, currently fighting a hostile takeover bid from U.S. peer Staples, said first-quarter sales fell to 1.36 billion euros from 1.44 billion in the same quarter the previous year, hit by a weaker dollar and falling sales to the financial sector in the United States.

According to the average forecast in a Reuters survey of five analysts, core profit (earnings before interest and tax or EBIT) was seen at 52 million euros.

Corporate Express posted net profit of 8.5 million euros, significantly below an average forecast of 19 million euros after increased financing costs.

>> Video: Corporate Express CEO on Earnings

British American Tobacco Profit Gets Boost

BAT, the world's second biggest cigarette maker, posted a 17 percent rise in first-quarter earnings, boosted by the weak pound as it said 2008 had got off to a great start.

The London-based group which makes Lucky Strike, Kent, Dunhill and Pall Mall cigarettes, said on Wednesday it made adjusted diluted earnings per share of 28.44 pence, largely in line with forecasts, during in the first three months of 2008.

Analysts' earnings forecasts ranged from 26.4p to 29.9p with a consensus of 28.2p in a Reuters poll.

InterContinental's Profit Rises

InterContinental Hotels Group reported a 22 percent rise in first-quarter operating profit and said it was well placed for further growth despite the economic downturn.

Underlying operating profit was 55 million pounds ($108 million) for the three months to March 31, up from 45 million last year.

The average profit forecast of five analysts polled by Reuters was 53.9 million, in a range of 51.5-57.0 million.

Continuing revenue climbed 15 percent to 226 million pounds.

>> Video: InterContinental CEO Upbeat on Outlook

EasyJet Loss Widens

British budget airline easyJet said its first-half losses trebled to 57.5 million pounds ($112.9 million), but passenger numbers were up and summer bookings were ahead of last year.

The company, which issued a profit warning in March due to record fuel costs, said passenger numbers rose 15 percent for the six months to end March, while the load factor -- a measure of how much it fills planes -- held steady at 81 percent.

The company, Europe's second biggest budget carrier in terms of passengers behind Ireland's Ryanair, said first half revenues rose 24 percent to nearly 900 million pounds.

>> Video: Anglo Irish Bank CEO on 15% Rise in Earnings

Total Tops Forecasts

Total posted a 9 percent rise in first-quarter net profit, excluding one-offs, as record oil prices helped make up for a slight drop in the French energy group's oil and gas production and unfavorable exchange rates.

The world's fourth-largest non government-controlled oil group by market value said the coming months should reflect the gradual production ramp-up at several new oil and gas fields but it would not commit to a target for the year.

France's biggest listed company with a market capitalization of just over $200 billion said quarterly adjusted net profit, which strips out gains from changes in the value of fuel inventories and one-off items, was 3.254 billion euros ($5.04 billion).

--Reuters contributed to this report