* Pan-European index FTSEurofirst 300 rises 0.6 pct
* ECB measures could include rate cut, asset purchase changes
* Auto sector seen benefiting from weaker euro
* Italian grid operators rise after regulator move (Adds details)
By Danilo Masoni
MILAN, Dec 3 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Thursday as investors prepared for new stimulus from the European Central Bank later in the day, with carmakers and other exporters lifted by expectations the policy easing will further weaken the euro.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was up 0.6 percent, trailing three-month highs, and the euro zone’s blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 was 0.8 percent higher.
Prospects of new ECB stimulus has helped drive European stocks higher. ECB chief Mario Draghi, who has a track record of positively surprising markets, is seen delivering measures that could include a deposit rate cut and changes to the bank’s asset-buying programme.
“The focus of the market is on how much Draghi will be able to surprise,” said Giuseppe Sersale, fund manager at Anthilia Capital Partners in Milan. If Draghi is seen to have disappointed the market, the risk is for a “robust correction”, he added.
Auto stocks were up 1.3 percent as new easing by the ECB is expected to weaken the euro even more, while the United States is set to end a decade of easy monetary policy and raise interest rates this month.
Jerome Schupp, head of research at SYZ Asset Management in Geneva, said carmakers would clearly benefit from the new stimulus along with insurers, while banks with a strong retail exposure are likely to suffer.
“The impact (of the ECB measures) will be much more visible on a sector level than on a market level,” he said.
Among the biggest gainers, Italian grid operators Snam and Terna rose more than 3 percent after the Italian energy regulator set new criteria for investment returns.
German utility E.ON also gained more than 3 percent, helped by a buy rating from Jefferies which started coverage of the stock with a 10.50 euro price target.
Miners were the biggest sectoral losers on the back of weaker commodity prices. Shares in BHP Billiton, AngloAmerican and Rio Tinto were down 1.9-2.5 percent. London copper prices slipped on Thursday to their lowest in a week in the face of a steadily strengthening U.S. dollar and weakening demand growth in top consumer China.
Energy stocks were up 0.4 percent. Oil prices rose from near-2015 lows after a report said Saudi Arabia would propose a deal to balance oil markets with non-OPEC help next year. Despite the price rise, the oil market remains heavily oversupplied.
Europe bourses in 2015: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2015: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up RCH/EUROPE (Reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Susan Fenton)