EUROPE MARKETS: European Stocks Buoyed By Earnings Before ECB's Draghi Steps On Stage

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Euro falls below $1.15 before Draghi speaks; ECB leaves rates unchanged, as expected

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European stocks remained higher Thursday, as investors sifted through corporate earnings reports and heard the European Central Bank say it will hold its key interest rates steady.

The ECB also said it will keep buying 60 billion euros of government bonds and other assets each month through December, "or beyond, if necessary."

Attention will now swing to ECB President Mario Draghi, who will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. Frankfurt time, or 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

Check out MarketWatch's live blog of Draghi's press conference (http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2017/07/20/ecb-live-blog-mario-draghi-walks-the-policy-tightrope/)

The Stoxx Europe 600 was up 0.2% at 386.19, led by oil and gas, telecom and tech shares. But utility and financial shares were lower. The pan-European benchmark on Wednesday closed up 0.8%, (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-advance-helped-by-upbeat-earnings-2017-07-19) aided by well-received earnings reports.

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Earnings season: A new wave of financial updates rolled in on Thursday, with Publicis Groupe SA (PUB.FR) shares surging 3.9%. The French advertising heavyweight confounded expectations by posting a rise in second-quarter profit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/publicis-profit-up-as-us-revenue-turns-positive-2017-07-20) as U.S. revenue turned positive.

Unilever shares (ULVR.LN) picked up 1.1% after the maker of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and other consumer goods said reported a sharp rise in first-half profit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unilever-posts-profit-gain-lifts-margin-guidance-2017-07-20), making good on its vow to improve performance after rebuffing a Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC) bid.

But on the downside, shares of Nordea Bank AB (NDA.SK) dropped 5% after the Swedish bank's second-quarter profit of 743 million euros ($855.7 million) missed expectations (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nordea-profit-falls-domicile-decision-in-sept-2017-07-20).

ECB taper watch: Investors will be waiting to hear what the ECB intends for its program of bond buying beyond December -- whether it will scale it down in 2018 for an eventual wind-down.

Read:Why Mario Draghi can't back down from ECB taper hints (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-mario-draghi-cant-back-down-from-ecb-taper-hints-2017-07-19)

The euro pulled back to $1.1482 after the ECB policy statement Thursday, down from $1.1516 late Wednesday in New York. In recent sessions, the shared currency climbed to a 14-month high above $1.15.

"[I]n an attempt to prepare the market, Mario Draghi is expected to hint at a scaling back of their asset purchase program towards the end of the summer," wrote Konstantinos Anthis, a researcher at ADS Securities.

"The euro has had a very good run in recent weeks. Having a strong currency is a plus for the European economy but it is also stopping a rise in inflation, so is there a case for Draghi to sound positive but not over the moon," he added.

Individual indexes: In Germany, the DAX 30 index popped up 0.7% to 12,533.62, and France's CAC 40 index was up 0.4% at 5,237.14.

But Spain's IBEX 35 shed 0.2% at 10,563 while Italy's FTSE MIB was up 0.2% at 21,525.

The U.K.'s FTSE 100 was 0.7% higher at 7,482.58 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ftse-100-lifted-as-unilever-advances-with-ecb-meeting-in-focus-2017-07-20).

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 20, 2017 08:20 ET (12:20 GMT)