EUROPE MARKETS: European Stocks Fight For Gains As Countdown To Draghi Speech Begins

By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Provident Financial rallies 20% after plunge earlier in the week

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European stock markets swung between small gains and losses Friday, as investors geared up for the main event of the week: speeches from the heads of the eurozone and U.S. central banks at Jackson Hole, Wyo.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index traded 0.3% higher at 375.74, after closing 0.2% higher on Thursday. The pan-European benchmark was on track for a 0.4% weekly gain.

"It looks like it is going to be one of those days, with the European markets snoozing their way through the open," said Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex, in a note.

"That's because the day's main events -- the Jackson Hole Symposium speeches from Janet Yellen and Mario Draghi -- aren't until this evening, leaving investors in a state of anticipatory reticence. With little else to fill the gap between now and then, the European indices seem decidedly uninterested in doing anything, barely budging after the bell," he said.

The meeting, hosted by the Kansas Federal Reserve, started late Thursday and will run through Saturday. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen is scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, or 3 p.m. London time on Friday, while Draghi is on the docket at 3 p.m. Eastern, or 8 p.m. London time.

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Read:Fed watchers still fret about policy missteps as Jackson Hole gets under way (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/fed-watchers-still-fret-about-policy-missteps-as-jackson-hole-gets-under-way-2017-08-24)

Traders are hoping to get hints on the future of monetary policy in both Europe and the U.S., but they may get disappointed. ECB sources have already told Reuters that Draghi won't be discussing interest rates or the bank's quantitative easing program, but instead focus on the theme of the symposium -- "Fostering a dynamic global economy".

"While getting policy clues out of Janet Yellen may be difficult, in the case of Draghi it's like trying to draw blood from a stone, at least recently anyway," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note.

"The ECB will want to avoid any sharp appreciation in the currency and a similar rise in bond yields at all costs. If anything, Draghi may deliver a rather dovish message that still leaves the door open to tapering at the end of the year while carefully managing the euro lower," he added.

See:Fearful of awakening market bears, Yellen and Draghi to tread softly at Jackson Hole (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/fearful-of-awakening-market-bears-yellen-and-draghi-to-tread-softly-at-jackson-hole-2017-08-24)

Stock movers: Shares of Provident Financial PLC (PFG.LN) rallied 20%, adding to double-digit percentage gains from Thursday and Wednesday. On Friday, the company said it re-appointed Chris Gillespie (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/provident-financial-brings-chris-gillespie-back-2017-08-25) as managing director of its consumer credit unit. The U.K.-based lender tumbled 66% on Tuesday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/provident-warns-on-profit-again-ceo-to-leave-2017-08-22) after warning it will lose between 80 million pounds ($102 million) and GBP120 million in the third quarter.

Supermarket shares were declining, after Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) said it will cut prices at Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM) when the acquisition is complete. The move is seen as escalating the price war among grocery stores, which has already taken a toll on the sector.

Shares of Royal Ahold Delhaize NV (AD.AE) lost 4.3% and Tesco PLC (TSCO.LN) (TSCO.LN) gave up 1.8%.

Shares of Aviva PLC (AV.LN) rose 0.5%. The insurer said it is selling its 50% stake in its Italian joint venture to its partner Banco BPM SpA (BAMI.MI) for an undisclosed sum.

Energy companies were also higher, tracking a 0.8% rise for oil prices . Energy investors were closely watching Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf of Mexico, which on Friday was heading for Texas and the state's many oil refineries.

Read:Why Gulf of Mexico's Hurricane Harvey is bearish for oil (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-gulf-of-mexico-storm-harvey-is-bearish-for-oil-2017-08-24)

Shares of Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN) (RDSB.LN) gained 0.3%, and BP (BP.LN) (BP.LN) added 0.6%.

Economic data: The euro stayed lower after the German Ifo business climate index slipped to 115.9 in August from 116 in July. Analysts had expected a reading of 115.7 for August, according to a FactSet forecast.

The euro bought $1.1796, down slightly from $1.1800 late Thursday in New York.

The final reading on German GDP on Friday confirmed the economy grew 2.1% in the second quarter.

Consumer confidence in France, the eurozone's second largest economy, fell to 103 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/french-consumer-confidence-drops-in-august-2017-08-25) from 104 in July, statistics agency Insee said, in line with economists' forecasts.

Indexes: Germany's DAX 30 index rose 0.3% to 12,215.98. France's CAC 30 index added 0.3% to 5,126.87, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index gained 0.3% to 7,431.59.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 25, 2017 05:14 ET (09:14 GMT)