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January 2, 2007 > European stocks end last trading day of year lower

European stocks end last trading day of year lower

By Steve Goldstein

LONDON (AP), Dec 29 _ European stocks closed lower Friday, with the banking sector in focus on the last trading of the year after ABN Amro announced U.S. job cuts and Credit Agricole said it will issue discounted shares to help fund the acquisition of bank branches in Italy.

The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 lost 0.3 percent to 365.26, with losers including U.K. fixed-line operator BT Group and Spanish real-estate company Inmobiliaria Colonial.

In London, the FTSE 100 index closed 0.3 percent lower at 6,220.80. U.K. trading ended at 12:30 p.m. local time.

The German DAX Xetra 30 slipped 0.2 percent to 6,596.92. Not all national markets were lower, however, with the French CAC 40 gaining 0.2 percent to 5,541.76.

Volumes were thin, with sparse economic and corporate news ahead of the New Year's holiday.

Among European shares in focus, ABN Amro closed 1.3 percent lower after announcing late Thursday it would be cutting 900 jobs at its LaSalle operations in Chicago.

The move is part of a plan to lower expenses and improve the operational performance of businesses in mature markets such as the U.S., ABN said.

Shares of Credit Agricole slipped 0.3 percent in Paris. The company said it will issue euro4 billion in discounted shares to help finance the acquisition of 663 Italian bank branches, including 202 branches of Banca Intesa.

Agricole's paying euro5.96 billion for the branches, which are being bought as part of Intesa's deal to merge with San Paolo IMI.

For every 10 shares owned, investors will be able to buy one Agricole share at a 16.5 percent discount to Wednesday's close.

Intesa's shares gained 1.5 percent, with San Paolo IMI adding 1.7 percent.

Also on the rise, Suez advanced 2.6 percent after a report in French business magazine Capital that Francois Pinault is set to launch a euro70-billion offer after getting approval from the French government.

According to the report, he would then sell the energy assets to Gaz de France.

Shares of fund manager Amvescap (AVZ) were another gainer, rising as much as 3 percent on a Wall Street Journal report that it lost in the bidding battle to acquire Putnam Investments.

Also in London, shares of PartyGaming slipped 0.8 percent after the company reached two deals, agreeing to pay out $66.3 million in shares to buy Empire Online's gaming assets and International Online Gaming's business and assets.

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