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Europe: Stocks end steady before Fed policy decision

Thursday, March 17, 2016 - 05:57

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[LONDON] European stocks ended little changed on Wednesday, coming off session highs after a report showed US inflation rose more than expected last month, with gains for energy and auto company shares offset by a weaker banking sector.

Underlying inflation in the United States rose more in February than expected, data showed on Wednesday, bolstering the case for higher interest rates a few hours before the Federal Reserve's announces its policy decision.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index closed up 0.02 per cent at 1,341.8 points and euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index fell 0.2 per cent, while Britain's FTSE rose on the back of proposals in finance minister George Osborne's annual budget statement.

"It is unlikely that we'll get a move tonight, but I am definitely looking for a hawkish lean from the Fed," Saxo Bank's head of forex strategy, John Hardy, said.

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"There is two-way risk tonight and there could be a lot of volatility in and around the decision."

The US central bank, which raised rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade, sounded a cautious note at its last policy meeting in January, amid a sell-off on financial markets, weaker oil prices and falling inflation expectations.

The latest policy statement, due at 1800 GMT along with updated economic projections, will show how comfortable policymakers are with the gradual rate increases they projected late last year.

Shares in oil companies such as BP, Eni and Total advanced alongside crude prices after major producers firmed up plans to meet in Qatar to discuss an output freeze. Tullow Oil got a further boost from a Kenya oil discovery.

Banks fell the most, dropping 1.3 per cent.

Deutsche Bank and UBS both lost ground after downbeat comments from their chief executives.

Among standout movers, chemicals distributor Brenntag surged 7.2 per cent after the company forecast more growth in 2016. Engineering services group Bilfinger slumped after scrapping its dividend.

Deutsche Boerse shares edged up 0.2 per cent after disclosing more details about its proposed merger with the London Stock Exchange, which fell 1.2 per cent.

Auto stocks gained the most, rising 2.2 per cent, with BMW up 3.9 per cent after saying it will focus on electric vehicles and automated driving and develop its software and technology services as part of a new strategy.

REUTERS

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