* FTSEurofirst 300 index closes flat
* Miners slip, track fall in iron ore prices
* Swiss SMI index touched 9,000 mark
By Atul Prakash
LONDON, Nov 19 (Reuters) - European shares ended flat after hitting a seven-week high earlier on Wednesday, with investors trading cautiously ahead of minutes from the most recent Federal Reserve policy meeting.
The market also faced pressure from a sharp decline in mining shares after China’s iron ore futures dropped nearly 5 percent to a record low. That pushed down spot prices, which have slumped to their weakest in more than five years on a supply glut.
The STOXX Europe Basic Resources index fell 1.6 percent, the worst sectoral performer in Europe, while both Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton shed more than 2 percent.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 share index ended flat at 1,359.88 points, after climbing to a seven-week high earlier in the session with the help of some positive broker upgrades. But gains evaporated later as focus shifted to the Fed minutes.
“There are still some concerns that the language from the Fed might indicate that the rates will start rising sooner than expected,” Lorne Baring, managing director of B Capital Wealth Management, said.
“But I think the central bank will continue with its language of keeping interest rates lower and the monetary policy accommodative until the escape velocity has been achieved. The focus of the Fed’s language will start to turn to external drags on the United States, such as Europe and China.”
The Fed is set to publish minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s October policy meeting at 1900 GMT. They are expected to show the Fed’s path is diverging from other major central banks that are increasing their stimulus programmes.
Across Europe, Germany’s DAX rose 0.17 percent and France’s CAC was up 0.09 percent. Switzerland’s SMI equity index was up 0.12 percent after hitting the 9,000 mark for the first time since late 2007. The SMI is up more than 10 percent so far this year, against a flat German index.
“If you talk about flight to safety, the Swiss market is one of the main beneficiaries of that as it has got big defensive companies like Roche and Novartis. And the Swiss franc is a relatively stable currency,” Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets, said.
“In the short term this trend is likely to continue.”
Among other movers, Prudential rose 0.9 percent after Deutsche Bank increased its target price for the stock to 1,680 pence from 1,630 pence. Severn Trent was up 2.9 percent on an HSBC upgrade to “neutral” from “underweight”, while AstraZeneca gained 1.7 percent after Natixis raised its price target.
Areva tumbled 15.7 percent after suspending its 2015 and 2016 financial targets, blaming delays in a Finnish atomic project, the slow restart of Japan’s reactors and a lacklustre nuclear market. (Additional reporting by Blaise Robinson in Paris; Editing by Mark Heinrich)