(Alliance News) - European equities struggled again on Tuesday, with risk sentiment still hurt by political uncertainty on the continent, ahead of a US interest rate decision and key inflation reading on Wednesday.

The FTSE 100 index ended down 80.67 points, 1.0%, at 8,147.81. The FTSE 250 fell 179.19 points, 0.9%, at 20,266.85, and the AIM All-Share closed 6.77 points lower, 0.9%, at 781.51.

The Cboe UK 100 closed down 1.1% at 811.44, the Cboe UK 250 fell 1.0% at 17,757.69, and the Cboe Small Companies ended down 0.6% at 16,772.62.

In European equities on Tuesday, the CAC 40 in Paris slumped 1.3%, while the DAX 40 in Frankfurt shed 0.7%.

"European stock indices resumed their descents, sliding by around a percent, as investors switched out of these, following the shift to the right in the European parliamentary elections. The FTSE 100 briefly dipped to a five-week low as UK unemployment hit its highest level since September 2021 while average earnings remained stubbornly high," IG analyst Axel Rudolph commented.

According to the Office for National Statistics, UK average earnings excluding bonuses rose 6.0% on-year in the period, matching the pace of growth in the three months to April. Including bonuses, wages increased 5.9%, also matching the prior month, which was revised upwards from 5.7%. Market consensus had been anticipating a rise of just 5.7% in the recent period.

The report from the ONS showed the unemployment rate ticked up to 4.4% in the three months to April from 4.3% in the three months to March. According to FXStreet, markets were expecting the unemployment rate to remain unchanged.

The wage growth figure is "well above the levels that would make the Bank of England have any real confidence in achieving its 2% inflation target", Ebury analyst Matthew Ryan commented.

"The rest of the data was, however, patently consistent with a cooling in labour market conditions. Unemployment is rising, albeit gradually, and is now at its highest level since September 2021. Sterling largely held its own off the back of the data, as while rapidly rising wages could delay the start to Bank of England interest rate cuts, the increase in joblessness bodes ill for the UK's growth outlook."

The pound was quoted at USD1.2722 in London on Tuesday, unmoved from the equities close on Monday. The euro stood at USD1.0727, down against USD1.0739. Against the yen, the dollar was trading at JPY157.26, higher compared to JPY156.89.

French banking stocks were lower again. Societe Generale, among the worst of the lot in the CAC 40 in Paris, slumped 4.8%.

Ratings agency Moody's has warned that the snap elections called by President Emmanuel Macron could lower France's credit score because it raises the risk of "political instability".

Macron decided to dissolve the National Assembly and hold legislative elections after the far-right triumphed over his centrist group in Sunday's European Parliament elections.

The first round will take place on June 30 and the run-off on July 7.

"This snap election increases the risks to fiscal consolidation" and is "credit negative" for its rating, Moody's said in a statement late on Monday.

Eyes were also on Westminster, as the UK general election campaign continues. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged a tax break for landlords and help for first-time buyers as he prepares to launch the Conservative Party manifesto.

The UK prime minister's offer will include a 100% relief on capital gains tax liability for landlords who sell to their existing tenants, claiming the move will be "transformational".

Sunak, who acknowledged during a BBC interview that it has become harder for people to own their first home under the Conservatives, will also pledge to abolish stamp duty up to the value of GBP425,000 for first-time buyers and launch a "new and improved" Help to Buy scheme.

In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.6% at the time of the European equities close. The S&P 500 was down 0.2%, though the Nasdaq Composite was up 0.2%.

The Federal Reserve is expected to maintain interest rates at the current level once again, and the focus Wednesday will be on what it reveals in its latest projections, with the prospect of a hat-trick of cuts this year all but over.

According to the CME FedWatch Tool, there is a 99% chance the Fed maintains the federal funds rate range at 5.25%-5.50%. It will be the seventh successive hold by the US central bank.

Potentially muddying the waters, policymakers will have a US inflation reading to digest just hours before the decision. According to FXStreet, the annual rate of consumer price inflation is expected to have remained unmoved at 3.4% in May, where it stood in April. The annual rate of core inflation is expected to have ebbed to 3.5% from 3.6%.

ACY Securities analyst Luca Santos commented: "Attention will be on the Fed's forward guidance and the dot plot, which shows future rate expectations. There is speculation about an upward revision in the 2024 median forecast, suggesting the possibility of two rate cuts by the end of the year, instead of the previously projected three, along with an upward skew in individual rate projections.

The CPI report will be pivotal in shaping the Fed's perspective. Current projections indicate a favourable trend, with inflation expected to decelerate."

In London, Oxford Instruments rose 7.1%.

The Abingdon, England-based company is a provider of technology products and services for industrial companies and research communities.

In the year ended March 31, statutory pretax profit decreased 3.0% to GBP71.3 million from GBP73.5 million the year prior. Revenue rose 5.8% to GBP470.4 million from GBP444.7 million over the same period.

Oxford Instruments announced a final dividend of 15.90 pence per share, up 6.7% from 14.90 pence. This brings the total dividend paid in the year to 20.80p, reflecting a 6.7% increase from 19.50p.

Capricorn Energy added 8.8%.

The oil and gas exploration company confirmed that first production from the Sangomar Field development offshore Senegal has commenced.

It said that it has received confirmation from Woodside that the first oil condition under the sale and purchase agreement has been satisfied.

On AIM, Deltic Energy slumped 18%. The natural resources investor has withdrawn from the Pensacola discovery in the UK North Sea.

Deltic said: "Despite an exhaustive process, deteriorating sentiment towards the oil and gas industry as a result of ongoing fiscal volatility and negative political rhetoric in the run-up to the July election have resulted in Deltic being unable to secure a farm-out or an alternative funding solution which would allow the company to commit to its future commitments with respect to the Pensacola appraisal well."

Deltic said the only appropriate course of action is to withdraw from the licence "prior to further liabilities being crystallised".

Brent oil was quoted at USD81.74 a barrel at in London late on Tuesday afternoon, higher from USD80.81 late Monday. Gold was quoted at USD2,312.47 an ounce, up against USD2,305.10.

Wednesday's economic calendar has a slew of inflation readings, including China overnight, Germany at 0700 BST and the US at 1330 BST. The economic diary, which also has UK gross domestic product at 0700 BST, culminates with the latest Fed decision at 1900 BST.

By Eric Cunha, Alliance News news editor

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