LONDON (CBS.MW) - European benchmark stock indices were little changed on Friday amid selling pressure on the healthcare stocks and as German policy makers stepped up a call for a coordinated response to the euro's surge on the dollar.
German Finance Minister Hans Eichel, in an interview on German radio ahead of this weekend's gathering finance ministers and central bank chief from the top 20 economies, said "within the troika - i.e. Japan, America and Europe - we'll have to sit down together and try to reach a common solution."
Earlier, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Eichel urged further moves towards greater exchange rate flexibility among the west's key Asian trading partners, AFX News reported.
The euro was last at $1.3055 mark. The euro's gains make European goods more expensive in the U.S., a key export market.
Lagging European growth compounds the problem. Official data on Friday confirmed the slowing pace of growth in France. INSEE maintained its initial estimate that French GDP rose 0.1 percent in the third quarter from the second quarter.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet are slated to speak in the afternoon at a panel discussion in Frankfurt ahead of the G20 meeting.
Cap Gemini shares held up 2.5 percent after the company denied a report in the New York Times that it's mulling the sale of its North American business.
More broadly, the German DAX 30 index fell 1 percent to 4,135 while the French CAC 40 index slipped 0.8 percent to 3,799. In London, the FTSE 100 index was down 0.9 percent amid sharp declines for AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +0.97% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN +0.69% .
Shares of the pharmaceuticals maker fell 9.6 percent after a Food and Drug Administration official overnight said the agency should take a serious look at the recently approved lipid-lowering drug Crestor, made by AstraZeneca, which he said appears to have a risk of renal failure.
David Graham, associate director for science and medicine in the FDA's Office of Drug Safety and the drug reviewer who first warned of a Vioxx danger, told members of the Senate Finance Committee that the agency as currently configured "is incapable of protecting Americans against another Vioxx." See more
The FDA defended its approval of five currently-marketed drugs that Graham warned may be unsafe. Graham's testimony "does not reflect the views of the Agency," FDA official Steven Galson said late Thursday in a statement.
Grahman told lawmakers that AstraZeneca's cholesterol drug Crestor, GlaxoSmithKline's asthma therapy Serevent, Pfizer's arthritis drug Bextra and Abbott Lab's weight loss drug Meridian have been linked to serious side effect and that /zigman2/quotes/206948568/composite RHHVF +3.82% acne drug Accutane should be under controlled distribution.
In Scandinavia Nordic Capital and APT Private Equity said they were making a 60 Danish kronor per share offer to buy Falck , valuing the Danish ambulance and fire engine company at Dkr 5.3 billion ($930 million). The equity companies said Falck's board had recommended the deal to shareholders and the company's largest shareholder had agreed to the sale. Falck shares rose 15 percent in Copenhagen.