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LONDON, Feb 17 (Reuters) - European shares headed for a flat to slightly higher start on Wednesday after closing lower in the previous session, with sentiment staying fragile following volatile prices of crude oil and metals.
Investors' focus will be on company earnings for hints about the market's direction in the near-term. Among major results, ABN Amro said its underlying fourth-quarter net profit fell 32 percent from a year earlier to 272 million euros ($304 million), hit by regulatory costs and taxes.
Futures for the Euro STOXX 50, Germany's DAX , France's CAC and Britain's FTSE were trading between flat to 0.5 percent higher.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index closed 0.4 percent lower in the previous session, reversing initial gains and following a 6 percent rise made over the last two sessions.
In Asia, shares slipped on Wednesday after two sessions of solid gains. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.6 percent, reversing early gains of 0.4 percent.
The Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.3 percent and South Korea 0.1 percent. Japan's Nikkei fell 1.7 percent, but is still up more than 5 percent on the week.
The largest Dutch retail bank said on Wednesday its underlying fourth-quarter net profit fell 32 percent from a year earlier to 272 million euros ($304 million), hit by regulatory costs and taxes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted breakthrough therapy designation to AstraZeneca's biggest new drug hope durvalumab as a treatment in bladder cancer, the drugmaker said on Wednesday.
The bank promised stable investor returns and a solid capital base in the future as it outlined plans to simplify its much-criticised ownership structure.
One of the world's largest aluminium producers cut its 2016 forecast for aluminium global demand, including China, to 3-4 percent from 4-5 percent previously, as it reported quarterly earnings that beat forecasts on Wednesday.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted breakthrough therapy designation for ocrelizumab (OCREVUSTM) for treating people with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), the Swiss drugmaker said.
European exchanges operator Euronext NV said its core earnings rose 26 percent in 2015, thanks to sustained listing activity and strong turnover from cash trading.
The Dutch supplements maker reported that core earnings rose 6 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, on the back of strong sales growth at its nutrition division.
The Swiss speciality chemical maker posted a steeper-than-expected drop in fourth-quarter net profit and said it would offer shareholders a slightly lower dividend than analysts had expected.
Groupe Bruxelles Lambert said it plans to sell its 0.7 percent stake in the oil company via a private placement.
India's tax office has sent Vodafone a reminder to pay $2 billion in taxes and threatened the UK group with seizure of local assets if it fails to do so, despite the dispute being the subject of an international arbitration process.
The Paris airports operator said it expected slight earnings growth in 2016 on the back of a 2.3 percent increase in traffic.
Harris Associates Portfolio Manager and Chief Investment Officer for international equities David Herro told Finanz und Wirtschaft the fund had increased its stake in LafargeHolcim to around 6.4 percent.
The property group said it plans to increase its dividend payout by 10 percent in 2016 and aims for a current operating profit of 300 million euros in 2018.
An Airbus executive urged European banks to overcome their wariness about financing export projects to Iran because of U.S. sanctions, highlighting difficulties European companies face in their rush to Tehran.
Spain's Abengoa said late on Tuesday it needs 826 million euros for this year, not including sales of non-core assets, and a further 304 million euros in 2017.
Gamesa said on Wednesday it will repower a German wind farm with 4.5 MW turbines, installing three G128 4.5 MW turbines at the Debstedt wind farm for Energiekontor.
Germanwings is bracing for "significantly higher" compensation payments than the 11.2 million euros already disbursed to the families of passengers killed in last year's crash, Rheinische Post reported on Wednesday, citing information from the carrier.
A Dutch foundation trying to recover damages for VW investors said on Tuesday it had already won the support of dozens of shareholders, including several institutions, since it was launched this week.
Activist investor Knight Vinke sold a roughly 1 percent stake in UBS late last year, a spokesman said on Tuesday, exiting a position it sought to leverage to convince the largest Swiss bank to change its strategy.
BANCA POPOLARE DI VICENZA (IPO-BPVS.MI)
The bank said on Tuesday its board had called a shareholder meeting on March 4, first call, and March 5, second call, to vote on transformation of the cooperative lender into a joint stock company as well as a capital increase of up to 1.5 billion euros and a listing of the bank.
Drinks can makers Ball Corp and Rexam Plc have begun the process of selling assets, potentially worth more than $3 billion, to meet antitrust regulations ahead of their planned merger, several people familiar with the matter said.
BAE Systems said on Wednesday it had chosen Indian conglomerate Mahindra Group to build a plant for the assembly of its M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzer artillery guns that it wants to sell to India.
Reporting by Atul Prakash