* FTSEurofirst 300 index steadies near highs
* Focus on European Central Bank’s policy meeting
* Ryanair jumps after raising profit guidance
By Atul Prakash
LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index steadied near a 2-1/2-month high on Thursday, with investors avoiding strong positive bets ahead of a meeting of the European Central Bank.
ECB President Mario Draghi will present updated forecasts for growth in output and inflation at a news conference after the meeting. The euro zone’s central bank could extend its debt purchases to include corporate bonds, but is unlikely to announce any radical move to shore up the economy, such as printing money to buy government bonds.
“Investors hope that Mario Draghi will take the monetary stimulus exercise one step further,” said Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels. “This will clearly be the focus point of the day and markets will be in a wait and see mode before that.”
The Federal Reserve’s vice chair Stanley Fischer was quoted as saying in an Italian newspaper that the ECB should follow the U.S. central bank in launching a quantitative easing bond-buying scheme to prop up the tottering euro zone economy.
Ryanair led the European Travel and Leisure index to gain 1.4 percent, the biggest sectoral gainer. Ryanair surged 8 percent to a record high after raising its full-year profit guidance. TUI Travel was up 2.8 percent after its annual profit rose 11 percent.
At 0844 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 0.03 percent at 1,399.51 points after climbing to its highest in more than two months on Wednesday. The index has gained 15 percent since a one-year low in mid-October.
On the data front, focus will be on U.S. initial jobless claims later in the session, after figures showed France’s unemployment rate rose to 10.4 percent in the third quarter from a revised 10.1 percent in the previous three months.
Among other movers, shares in budget airline easyJet rose 2.6 percent after it said the number of passengers rose 3.1 percent in November. (Editing by Catherine Evans)