By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch
Pound falls vs. euro after ECB drops easing bias; Aviva shares fall after earnings report
U.K. blue-chip stocks wobbled Thursday as investors sifted through a round of corporate updates while awaiting more details about potential U.S. tariffs on steel imports that analysts have said could stoke a global trade war.
London-listed large cap stocks were largely unchanged after the European Central Bank removed the easing bias from its monetary policy statement.
How markets are moving
The FTSE 100 index was up 0.1% at 7,163.18 and has been swaying between small gains and losses. Mining and oil shares were losing the most while the utility and telecom group topped advancers. On Wednesday, the index rose 0.2% to mark a third consecutive win.
The pound bought $1.3876, down from $1.3903 late Wednesday in New York.
What's driving markets
U.K. and European equity markets appeared to be in wait-and-see mode with key updates in store for global markets. U.S. President Trump was reportedly expected on Thursday to sign an order to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports into the U.S. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has indicated Canada and Mexico may exempt if the countries strike a new NAFTA agreement. Trump is expected to make an announcement at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, according to media reports .
Analysts have said a global trade war could weigh on economic growth world-wide.
The European Union has said it's preparing its own tariffs if Trump moves ahead with the levies. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will likely be asked Thursday about tariffs and its impact on the eurozone at his press conference after the release of the central bank's latest monetary policy decision. Draghi's news conference is set for 1:30 p.m. London time, or 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time.
The European Central Bank during afternoon trade issued its monetary policy statement. The bank dropped the line from the statement that had said it would increase its quantitative easing measures if the eurozone's economic outlook worsens. The ECB did, however, reiterate that the current EUR30-billion-a-month stimulus program will "run until the end of September 2018, or beyond, if necessary. The ECB left interest rates unchanged, as expected .
The euro was up against the pound following the statement, buying 0.8950 pence compared with 0.8926 pence late Wednesday.
What strategists are saying
"It is still hard to avoid the sense that markets are underestimating the prospect that this could all blow up into one big mess, particularly since the departure of Mr. Cohn would appear to suggest that he was losing the argument on trade policy, and that steel and aluminum tariffs are merely the warm up act for additional policy measures," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, in a note.
"This morning's Chinese trade data are only likely to reinforce the U.S. administration's perception of unfair trade as Chinese exports were seen to show a rise [of] 44.5% in February, the best performance in over two years," he said.
G4S PLC fell 3.3%, with shares retreating from earlier gains made after the security and consulting services company declared a higher final dividend for the year and posted a rise in yearly pretax profit to GBP386 million ($536 million).
Aviva PLC declined 0.9% even as the insurer said profit in 2017 rose , and that it expects to return GBP500 million ($694.3 million) in excess cash to shareholders this year.
"Disappointments are few and far between, although committed bears may point to a slightly softer General Insurance operating profit, an uptick in operating expenses and a 'disappointing' contribution from Canada," wrote Richard Hunter, Interactive Investor's head of markets in a note about Aviva's results.
Off the FTSE 100, Countrywide PLC sank 8%, but was off session lows, after the estate agent scrapped its dividend , citing the booking of a huge impairment charge and a slide in earnings as reason for the move.