Europe Markets Catch Football World Cup Fever

Central bank intervention? Another drug company mega-merger? Forget it. The World Cup kicked off on Friday and many in the financial markets were focused on football.

The 32-team tournament finally kicked off at 1130 GMT, with the first match pitting champions France against Senegal in the South Korean capital Seoul.

In dealing rooms across Europe, traders turned at least half an eye from screens full of prices to the soccer on TV.

"There is absolutely no interest at all in the market here," said a Paris trader, telling a journalist to call back after the match was over. France were trailing 1-0 at halftime.

Thanks to the time difference between Europe and host nations South Korea and Japan, many of the matches are being played during European markets' trading hours.

London, home of a $400-billion-a-day foreign exchange market, and Europe's biggest stock market, was settling down for the game before two days' holiday on Monday and Tuesday to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's 50 years on the throne.

"The UK's just geared up for the long weekend now, everyone's watching the football," said a foreign exchange dealer at a U.S. bank.

Even before the kick off, many were focused on the feast of football which lies ahead in the next month.

"What we're waiting for is 12.30: France vs Senegal, and that will be the same for most places," said one London equity dealer.

In Germany -- three-times winners of the World Cup - some traders were more focused on soccer than stocks.

"We'll have to wait until next week for a sense of direction for the market," a Frankfurt-based trader said. "Today it will be more interesting to watch the World Cup."

Of course, banks say their traders will keep their eyes on their work during the games, but they have largely resigned themselves to the fact that football will limit activity.

England's game against Argentina at 1130 GMT on June 7 is expected to leave trading rooms particularly depleted.

"There's still enough volume going through for people to trade but I would expect it to really slow down once the World Cup gets into full swing next week," said Neil Parker, market strategist at RBS Financial Markets.

Britain's Department of Trading Industry, anxious to prevent an epidemic of "sick leave," urged employers to offer staff flexible working hours to allow them to watch the football.

Not so in Norway where the main employers' group, the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry, said people shouldn't be allowed to watch football at work, reversing a recommendation for the Winter Olympics.

Norway won a string of medals in Salt Lake City but the soccer team is in disgrace for failing to qualify for the World Cup after making the last two finals.