European Factors to Watch-Shares seen steady ahead of ECB
PARIS, Sept 4 (Reuters) - European stocks were seen opening flat to slightly lower on Thursday, taking a breather following the previous session's sharp gains, as investors awaited to see whether the European Central Bank will unveil further immediate stimulus steps to stave off deflation. At 0615 GMT, futures for Euro STOXX 50, for UK's FTSE 100, for Germany's DAX and for France's CAC were flat to down 0.1 percent. European shares strongly rallied on Wednesday, with the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares climbing to a two-month high, boosted in part by speculation of a ceasefire in Ukraine. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined plans for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine but the Ukrainian prime minister dismissed the proposal, while France expressed its disapproval of Moscow's support for separatist forces by halting delivery of a warship. The focus will be on the European Central Bank on Thursday. According to BNP Paribas equity derivative strategists, investor sentiment towards euro zone banks is quite bullish ahead of the ECB rate decision and press conference. "Open interests for call options on the STOXX 600 euro zone bank index have surged over the last week. 1.5 billion euros notional was traded since the beginning of this week, compared to 500 million euros on puts," the strategists wrote in a note. The ratio measuring the number of negative 'put' options versus bullish 'call' options on the euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index - the most liquid European market for options traders - has dropped sharply in the past three weeks, hitting 0.93 earlier this week, down from 2.45 in early August. Dovish comments by ECB President Mario Draghi in late August sparked market bets that the central bank is preparing to pump more liquidity into the system, possibly via purchases of government or corporate bonds, a measure known as quantitative easing (QE). "Ever since Mario Draghi made his speech at Jackson Hole in August, markets have been speculating that we could well see some extra measures unveiled today, either in the form of further rate reductions or an announcement of further easing measures in the form of asset purchases of some description," Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, wrote in a note. "But while we may see the ECB revise its inflation and growth forecasts we still haven't seen the end product with respect to the measures that were announced in June and the TLTROs. It would therefore be most odd, and out of character to see the ECB take further steps before they have seen the results of their previous measures." Sources from within the central bank told Reuters last week that new action at its meeting this Thursday was unlikely but not impossible, and that the barrier to QE was still "very high". In a Reuters poll conducted last week, economists saw a 75 percent chance that the ECB would buy asset-backed securities through a quantitative easing (QE) programme. In the poll, 32 of 39 economists said the ECB would conduct QE by March 2015. Europe bourses in 2014: (link.reuters.com/pad95v) Asset performance in 2014: (link.reuters.com/rav46v) ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ MARKET SNAPSHOT AT 0620 GMT: LAST PCT CHG NET CHG S&P 500 2,000.72 -0.08 % -1.56 NIKKEI 15676.18 -0.33 % -52.17 MSCI ASIA EX-JP 514.71 -0.14 % -0.7 EUR/USD 1.315 0 % 0.0000 USD/JPY 104.83 0.04 % 0.0400 10-YR US TSY YLD 2.402 -- -0.01 10-YR BUND YLD 0.948 -- -0.01 SPOT GOLD $1,270.89 0.18 % $2.32 US CRUDE $94.82 -0.75 % -0.72 > GLOBAL MARKETS-ASIAN SHARES FIRM NEAR 7-YEAR HIGH ON ECB HOPES > US STOCKS-WALL STREET ENDS MIXED AS APPLE WEIGHS ON NASDAQ > NIKKEI STEADY NEAR 7-MONTH HIGHS AS MARKET AWAITS BOJ OUTCOME > FOREX-EURO HOLDS STEADY AS ECB POLICY DECISION LOOMS > PRECIOUS-GOLD GAINS MODESTLY FROM 2-1/2 MONTH LOW ON PHYSICAL BUYING > METALS-LONDON COPPER EDGES OFF 2-WK LOW AHEAD OF ECB MEETING > BRENT SLIPS TOWARDS $102 ON U.S. FUEL STOCK-BUILD AFTER OVERNIGHT JUMP COMPANY NEWS: COMMERZBANK German lender Commerzbank AG is nearing agreement with U.S. authorities over its dealings with Iran and other countries under U.S. sanctions, sources familiar with the matter said. ALLIANZ Investors pulled cash from the Pimco Total Return Fund for a 16th straight month in August despite some improvement in performance for the world's largest bond fund. STANDARD LIFE Manulife Financial Corp said on Wednesday it has agreed to acquire the Canadian operations of Standard Life for about C$4 billion ($3.7 billion) in cash, in a deal that significantly expands the insurer's presence in Quebec. AUTOS Carmakers reported U.S. sales figures for August. BMW's vehicles sales were up 5.5 percent, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz 9.4 percent and Audi's 22.1 percent. Volkswagen saw its deliveries decline by 12.8 percent. VESTAS Danish wind turbine maker Vestas confirms information in the market regarding a 110 megawatt project in the U.S., the company said in an announcement on Wednesday evening. DANONE U.S. drugmaker Hospira's talks to buy the medical nutrition unit of Danone and use the deal to move its tax domicile abroad have stalled, according to people familiar with the matter, as attempts by U.S. companies to relocate abroad and cut their tax bills draw growing criticism back home. AIR FRANCE-KLM The carrier is expected to unveil a new strategy to combat low-cost airlines following a board meeting later on Thursday, with plans for its Transavia unit to open bases across Europe, Les Echos newspaper reported. DEUTSCHE BANK Billionaire investor William Ackman has tapped Deutsche Bank and UBS UBSN.VX to handle the listing of one of his hedge fund portfolios in London later this year, three sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. BAYER Bayer CropScience plans to invest close to $1 billion in the United States between 2013 and 2016 to help it grow faster than the U.S. market, it said on Wednesday. AXA French mutual health insurer Mutuelle Generale said it had entered exclusive tie-up talks with bigger rival Malakoff Mederic to create the country's biggest not-for-profit mutual insurer owned by policyholders. TELEFONICA, TELECOM ITALIA Brazil's antitrust watchdog Cade could analyze Telefonica plan to purchase smaller rival GVT jointly with a proposal to exit Telecom Italia, depending on how the deals are presented to regulators, the agency's president said on Wednesday. (Reporting by Blaise Robinson; Editing by Atul Prakash)
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