While you were sleeping: Walt Disney, Time Warner gain

Investors applauded the earnings and outlooks of Walt Disney and Time Warner, yet Wall Street failed to find momentum amid renewed concern about Europe's ability to commit to the austerity required to kick-start the region's economy.

Shares of Walt Disney gained, last up 1.2 percent to $US54.93 after earlier rising as high as $US55.50, after the company's quarterly profit surpassed expectations and painted a positive picture of its outlook.

"We're very pleased with our first-quarter results, which set the stage for continued growth in 2013, following a year of record revenue, net income and earnings per share in 2012," Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo told analysts during a call, according to Reuters.

Time Warner earnings also beat estimates, boosting its shares 4.2 percent. The company also lifted its dividend and announced a new share buyback programme.

"The big surprise here is the incremental return of capital to shareholders with the new dividend and buyback," Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible told Reuters.

And shares of Hewlett-Packard gained, last up 1 percent, amid reports the company is considering a breakup.

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a 0.04 percent gain, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index edged 0.02 percent higher and the Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.08 percent.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the session with a 0.4 percent drop from the previous close. Equities also fell in Frankfurt and Paris, closing 1.1 percent and 1.4 percent weaker, respectively. London gained 0.2 percent.

Weighing on the mood in the eurozone is the increasing popularity of former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi ahead of elections later this month. A poll by Tecne institute for SkyTG24 showed that he is closing the gap on front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani to 0.3 percentage points.

Mr Berlusconi's policies are at odds with the austerity sought by the European Union as they continue to battle the region's debt crisis and revive growth in its economy.

EU leaders are set to start a two-day meeting later today aimed at finding agreement over the bloc's next budget.

Policymakers at the European Central Bank are also meeting tomorrow, as are their counterparts at the Bank of England.

The euro weakened against the greenback, last 0.4 percent lower at $US1.3526.

The yen continued its slide against the US dollar amid signs of aggressive monetary easing ahead. Yesterday Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa announced that he would step down next month, three weeks before the official end of his term.

"It's the equivalent of waving a white flag for unconditional surrender," Shuichi Obata, senior economist at Nomura Securities in Tokyo, told Bloomberg. "Shirakawa didn't share the government's view that the central bank is responsible for ending deflation."

Liberty Global confirmed it is buying Virgin Media for about $US15.75 billion in stock and cash in a deal that it is worth more than $US23 billion including debt and is aimed at growing the US company's share of the European market.

(BusinessDesk)

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