European shares inch higher with Fed meeting in focus

Pan-European STOXX 600 up 0.4% in early trading after a five-session losing streak

Technology stocks helped drive gains in Europe’s major indexes on Wednesday, ahead of the US Federal Reserve’s policy outcome that is likely to signal a quicker withdrawal of its pandemic stimulus.

The pan-European STOXX 600 was up 0.4 per cent after a five-session losing streak, which was last seen at the height of a pandemic-led rout in March 2020.

High-growth technology stocks, which typically weaken on expectations of rising interest rates, jumped 1.3 per cent after a recent bout of selling.

Other defensive sectors such as utility and real estate also supported the index, while miners and retail stocks declined.

"We expect the major hike cycle to start next year, as inflation peaks then, which should give the Fed more time to act and then see what the impacts are before being too aggressive," said Jeremy Gatto, a multi-asset portfolio manager at Unigestion.

“With Omicron uncertainty, and the big central bank meetings, it’s going to mean more choppiness going into the weeks ahead.”

Anxiety around speedy tapering plans and the swift spread of the new coronavirus strain have turned investors cautious. The STOXX 600 is up about 1.8 per cent so far in December, in what is typically a strong month for global equity markets.

Data showed British consumer price inflation soared to a more than 10-year high of 5.1 per cent year-on-year in November ahead of the Bank of England’s meeting on Thursday.

The European Central Bank is also meeting on Thursday, with policymakers expected to decide how to adapt the bank's regular asset purchase programme (APP) once the much larger pandemic-fighting PEPP scheme ends in March.

Among individual companies, the world's biggest fashion retailer Inditex dropped 2.6 per cent after reporting lower-than-expected quarterly gross margins.

Sweden’s H&M fell 2.5 per cent after meeting quarterly expectations for net sales.

Shares of Generali inched up 0.6 per cent after Italy’s top insurer pledged to return up to €6.1 billion in dividends and buybacks to shareholders.

Support services provider DCC jumped 6.7 per cent after announcing its acquisition of Almo Corp for about $610 million.

Meanwhile, shares of IAG slipped 2 per cent after the Aer Lingus parent said it was in advanced talks to cancel its purchase of rival Air Europa from Spain's Globalia.

- Reuters