European Morning Briefing: Markets Subdued Ahead of Latest PMIs

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Snapshot:

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Stocks to edge lower; EUR/USD 1.1766-69; bund yield 0.436%; Brent crude $57.36; gold $1281.22

-VW Wins Approval for Diesel-Emissions Fixes

-Japanese Official Warns North Korean Threat Critical, Imminent

Watch For: Eurozone, Germany, France flash PMI; France business survey; Hungary interest rate decision; earnings from BASF, Fiat Chrysler, Novartis, Puma, Saipem; Anglo American production update; Renault, Vinci sales; U.S. earnings from AT&T, General Motors, McDonald's

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Headline News:

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Japan's defense minister said the threat posed by North Korea has grown to an "unprecedented, critical and imminent level," reflecting a rising sense of urgency over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told counterparts from South Korea and the U.S. that Japan supports the American position that "all options are on the table"--referring to a possible military response-while also favoring efforts at peace.

He said the danger from North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles meant the allies had to carefully calibrate their response.

Stocks:

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European shares face a mildly cautious start Tuesday, with DAX futures down 4 points and FTSE 100 futures 12 points lower.

Asia's main stock markets were hovering around the flatline Tuesday in quiet trade, ahead of crucial government appointments in China and the U.S.

A new lineup for the Chinese leadership is expected soon as the Community Party congress wraps up. And more important for markets, President Donald Trump is expected to unveil his pick to lead the Federal Reserve soon.

"Both currency and stock markets are waiting on news of who will be appointed as chair of the Fed," noted Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

U.S. stocks slipped Monday after major indexes finished last week with a trifecta of records.

A flurry of earnings reports released before the opening bell sparked swings in individual stocks. With nearly 200 S&P 500 companies on this week's earnings calendar, according to FactSet, analysts and investors expect corporate news to continue to drive much of the action in the coming days.

"Listening to companies on their earnings calls, I think the general trend is still looking pretty positive," said Jeremy Bryan, a portfolio manager at Gradient Investments. While some sectors like the insurance industry are expected to report weaker results than in previous years, partially because of damage from hurricanes earlier this year, "we're looking through the one-time hits and still expecting robust growth into 2018," Mr. Bryan said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2%, the S&P 500 lost 0.4% and Nasdaq closed 0.6% lower.

Corporate News:

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Volkswagen won approval from U.S. and California environmental regulators for fixes to more than 38,000 diesel-powered vehicles rigged to dupe emissions tests, avoiding the prospect of a more expensive undertaking to repurchase them from aggrieved consumers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board approved the German auto giant's plan for the repairs to Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche sport-utility vehicles with 3-liter engines that will address illegal defeat-device software that allowed them to pass government emissions tests and then pollute far beyond legal limits on the road, the company and regulators said Monday.

Some of the vehicles will receive updated software while others will also have their hardware modified, regulators said. Dealers will perform repairs free of charge.

Forex:

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The dollar eased slightly lower in Asia after rising to its highest level in more than three months Monday, buoyed by expectations of tax reform in the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal Dollar Index was at 87.03 early Tuesday.

Donald Trump said Sunday that he was optimistic Congress would pass a tax plan he could sign by year's end. The comments came days after the Senate voted for a budget blueprint that cleared a critical hurdle allowing Republicans to push ahead with the first major revision of the tax code since the 1980s. Most investors believe that a tax overhaul would give the dollar at least a temporary boost.

"The dollar has some modest wind in its sales for the moment and we still see this persisting for the rest of the year," said Steven Barrow, head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Standard Bank, in a note to clients.

Investors will also be keeping an eye out for the U.S. Commerce Department's advance estimate of third-quarter gross domestic product, due out Friday.

The expected European Central Bank bond-buying tapering is likely to push EUR/USD one or two cents higher, said J.P. Morgan, which holds a long euro position against the dollar, sterling and the Swiss franc.

"The ECB taper announcement is expected to be marginally constructive for the euro," JP Morgan said. Still, J.P. Morgan expects the euro's upside to be limited, given that ECB President Mario Draghi will likely "emphasize dovish forward rate guidance."

JP Morgan also said that currency options that protect against euro risks related to the ECB meeting are "a tad expensive." It cites "the likely outcome of a slower-for-longer QE extension is now consensus", and "the recent history of consistent under-delivery in euro-crosses on ECB meeting dates."

There is "much better value in owning 1-month forward volatility after the event," the bank said.

At 0350 GMT, USD/JPY was 113.31-32, EUR/USD was 1.1766-69 and GBP/USD was 1.3221-23.

Bonds:

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Treasurys prices edged higher Monday as investors paused to wait for clarity over whom Donald Trump will nominate to lead the Fed.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 2.375% from 2.381% Friday, posting its second decline in three days.

Some analysts said the implications for monetary policy may be significantly different depending on which candidate Mr. Trump selects. Potential nominees John Taylor, a Stanford economics professor, and Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor, are seen by investors as likely to favor raising interest rates at a faster pace than the central bank has suggested it will take.

Others in the running are Janet Yellen and central bank governor Jerome Powell, both of whom are seen as more likely to maintain the status quo as the Fed has projected three rate increases in 2018. A fifth possibility, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, has no record in central banking. Mr. Trump has said he would like to name his pick before his Nov. 3 trip to Asia.

"People are a little wary of getting out ahead" of a decision about the Fed's leadership, said Thomas Simons, a money market economist at Jefferies Group.

Investors are also awaiting the European Central Bank meeting Thursday, looking for signs about whether policy makers there will move to slow or curtail the bank's EUR60 billion in monthly bond purchases. The ECB's three-year policy of negative interest rates and its massive bond purchases have driven sovereign bond yields in the 19-nation currency bloc to near record lows, and encouraged investors to seek relatively higher yields in the U.S.

This "may be a potential turning point in the timeline for withdrawing accommodation," said Holly MacDonald, chief investment strategist at Bessemer Trust, noting the ECB is facing constraints on continuing its program of quantitative easing.

Still, with the decision well-telegraphed to markets and no interest rate increase on the horizon for some time, the ECB's October meeting is unlikely to ruffle bond markets much, she said.

However, according to Nomura, any extension in the ECB's QE program of under nine months could trigger a sell-off in 10-year German government bonds. Even a relatively small cut in monthly asset purchases to EUR40 billion or more could cause a sell-off if the program is extended by up to six months, according to the Japanese bank.

Energy:

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Oil futures were essentially flat in Asia after a muted global session Monday.

Still, the U.S. benchmark has risen in nine of the past 11 sessions to cut the year's drop to 3.4%. WTI has been underperforming Brent, which has risen 1% in 2017. The price spread with the global benchmark remains above $5/barrel, its widest for several years.

At 0144 GMT, December WTI was down 2 cents at $51.88, while Brent was down a penny at $57.36.

Metals:

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Gold prices remained steady in Asia as most markets appear to be in statis. Investors are awaiting word on whom will be in leadership in China as well as the Fed.

At 0202 GMT, London spot gold was down 73 cents at $1,281.22/troy ounce.

Write to paul.larkins@wsj.com

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October 24, 2017 00:13 ET (04:13 GMT)