- ECB keeps policy on hold
- Eurozone retail sales rise
- Euro-area services PMI falls
- US weekly jobless claims increase
FTSE 100: -0.15%
CAC 40: 0.42%
FTSE MIB: 1.38%
IBEX 35: 1.42%
Stoxx 600: 0.09%
European stocks were little changed after the European Central Bank (ECB) decided to keep policy on hold, as expected.
The ECB maintained interest rates at a record low of 0.25%. The interest rate on the marginal and deposit lending facilities were also held at 0.75% and 0%, respectively.
In a press conference following the policy announcement, ECB President Mario Draghi admitted that the governing council held "wide and rich" discussions on the possibility of quantitative easing (QE) amid pressure to tackle low inflation and high unemployment.
Inflation fell to 0.5% year-on-year in March from 0.7% in February, well below the ECB's target of just under 2%. Unemployment remained at 11.9% in February.
Draghi said the ECB had to take into consideration its heavy reliance on the banking sector when assessing whether to ease monetary policy.
Ahead of the policy meeting, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Wednesday urged the ECB to ease monetary policy to push inflation higher.
She warned that "low-flation" in advanced economies risked undercutting an already sluggish global recovery.
Draghi confessed that subdued inflation was a concern but said long-term expectations were firmly anchored towards 2%.
The ECB sees prices gradually increasing in 2015 before moving closer towards 2% in 2016.
He reiterated that the ECB stands ready to act to support the euro-area's recovery if needed.
"What markets are not comfortable with is that the ECB appeared satisfied with this 'low inflation' environment that we are in which if persistent and not tackled by the use of stimulus, stands to cause damage too - perhaps a point the ECB have unwisely ignored but will creep up and bite if not adequately dealt with," said ETX Capital Market Strategist Ishaq Siddiqi.
Eurozone retail sales, services PMIs
Eurozone retail sales climbed 0.8% year-on-year in February, in line with January's growth and beating forecasts for an increase of 0.7%.
Markit's Eurozone services purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to 52.2 in March from 52.4 the previous month, missing projections for the reading to remain unchanged. However, it remained above the 50 level that signals expansion in the sector.
The UK Markit/CIPS services PMI dropped to 57.6 in March from 58.2 in February, surprising analysts who expected the figure to hold steady.
US jobs figures ahead
Initial weekly jobless claims rose by 16,000 to 326,000 in the week ending March 29th, compared with a revised 310,000 the week before. Analysts had expected a smaller increase to 317,000.
It came ahead of the Labor Department's non-farm payroll figures for March tomorrow.
In other US data today, the ISM non-manufacturing index increased from 51.6 to 53.1 in March, below the forecast of 53.5.
Tullow Oil, BTG
Tullow Oil gained after UBS upgraded the stock from 'neutral' to 'buy'. The bank said that the investment case for the shares
has changed and the risk/reward balance is "now skewed to the upside".
BTG advanced after the biotechnology firm said annual sales will be near the top of its forecast range of £275m to £285m.
Pernod Ricard slumped as Credit Suisse cut its rating on the maker of Absolut vodka and Chivas Regal whisky to 'underperform' from 'neutral'.
Quindell jumped after insurance broker Swinton Group extended its contract with the provider of outsourcing services to March 2015.
Nokian Renkaat Oyj slipped after lowering its 2014 profit and sales forecasts due to weak Russian demand amid the turmoil surrounding Moscow's takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.
Rexel declined after its second-largest publicly disclosed investor, Ray Investment SARL, offered 27m shares in the wire and cable distributor at €18.85 each, according to Bloomberg.
British Sky Broadcasting tumbled after analysts at HBSC said that the recent rally in shares suggests that "significant risks" are being overlooked. HSBC maintained an 'underweight' rating.
The euro fell 0.41% to $1.3710.
Brent crude futures rose $0.541to $105.360 per barrel, according to the ICE.