European stocks fall ahead of ECB meeting; German factory orders slump

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European stocks fall ahead of ECB meeting; German factory orders slump
Credit: © Reuters.

Investing.com - European stock markets slipped lower Thursday, amid caution ahead of the latest European Central Bank rate-setting meeting.

At 03:10 ET (08:10 GMT), the DAX index in Germany traded 0.6% lower, the CAC 40 in France traded 0.6% lower and the FTSE 100 in the U.K. dropped 0.3%.

ECB meeting looms large

European equities have handed back some of the previous session’s gains when investors took comfort from growing signs the Federal Reserve will soon embark on rate cuts.

Attention has now turned to the latest meeting of the ECB later in the session, with the central bank widely expected to keep interest rates at a record 4.0%.

Inflation has continued to fall in the eurozone, but policymakers are likely to repeat that they need more evidence inflation is under control and that ongoing wage increases will not give it persistence.

The ECB's new economic projections are likely to point to lower economic growth this year, while German factory orders fell 11.3% on the month in January, data showed earlier Thursday, illustrating the weakness in the eurozone's largest economy.

Interest rate futures are almost fully priced in for a first rate cut from the ECB in June, with a total easing of 88 basis points expected for all of this year. 

Hugo Boss flags weak customer trends 

In the corporate sector, Hugo Boss (ETR: BOSSn ) stock slumped 16% after the German fashion retailer forecast operating profit for 2024 below market expectations, as it flagged persistently weak consumer confidence, in particular in distinct European economies.

Lufthansa (ETR: LHAG ) stock traded largely flat after the German airline cut its outlook for its 2024 operating margin to 7.6% from a goal of 8% as the impact of strikes and a drop in logistics profits will lead to a higher expected operating loss in the first quarter than in earlier years, offsetting strong post-COVID travel demand.

Aviva (LON: AV ) stock rose 3% after the U.K. insurance giant announced a 9% rise in annual operating profit, as well as a 8% rise in its dividend as part of its plans to pay out £300 million more to shareholders.

Virgin Money (LON: VM ) stock soared 35% following the surprise announcement that Nationwide is set to buy the bank, paying a 38% premium and valuing the bank at £2.9 billion.

Crude boosted by Chinese trade surplus

Oil prices steadied Thursday, largely holding on to recent gains after upbeat Chinese trade data and a small-than-expected rise in U.S. crude inventories.

By 03:10 ET, the U.S. crude futures traded flat at $79.13 a barrel, while the Brent contract dropped 0.1% to $82.92 a barrel. 

Data released earlier Thursday showed that China’s trade surplus grew more than expected in the first two months of 2024, providing hope that global trade is turning a corner.

Both benchmarks gained around 1% on Wednesday after U.S. crude inventories rose for a sixth week in a row, building by 1.4 million barrels, below the 2.1 million-barrel rise predicted.

Additionally, gold futures rose 0.2% to $2,162.85/oz, rallying to a new record high, while EUR/USD traded 0.1% lower at 1.0892.

 

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