European stocks paused Wednesday, after clocking five sessions of gains, while the winning streak in emerging-markets currencies also continued to fray.
The Stoxx Europe 600 edged 0.2% lower, while France's CAC-40 lost 0.1% and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 remained unchanged. Germany's DAX rose 0.1%, putting it within reaching distance of the 10,000 mark. On Tuesday it hit a record high, while the pan-European index climbed to its highest level since early 2008, largely supported by increasing hopes of a significant policy response from the European Central Bank at its monthly meeting next week.
"We retain our call that the ECB is going to cut its policy interest rate and/or announce targeted liquidity measures, with a view to support bank lending," Barclays economists Thomas Harjes and Antonio Garcia Pascual wrote in a note.
"We do not think that the ECB is about to launch a large-scale asset purchase program at this juncture, although some downward revision of its inflation forecast, especially for the near term, is likely in June. Instead, we continue to believe that the ECB will probably announce a small cut in the refi rate, to 0.10%, together with a cut in the deposit rate, to -0.10%," they added.
On Monday, President Mario Draghi warned there is a risk that expectations for ultralow inflation will gain a grip in the euro zone and spur consumers and businesses to delay purchases--the latest sign that the ECB is prepared to act.
In the U.S., futures indicated a 0.1% rise for the S&P 500. Changes in futures, however, aren't necessarily reflected in market moves after the opening bell. On Tuesday, the index posted its second-straight record and its 12th closing high of the year.
One factor that could temper those gains in stocks, however, is a renewed flare-up in tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Ukraine said that dozens of pro-Russian separatists were killed in fighting around a regional airport that continued for a second day on Tuesday, forcing schools to close and some residents to flee.
Rebel fighters took over Donetsk International Airport early Monday, prompting the military to deploy helicopters, fighter jets and paratroopers to regain control of the main terminal.
Moscow's Micex and RTS index were down 0.1% and 0.4%, respectively, in early European trade. The ruble continued to lose against the dollar, to hit 34.499.
Other emerging-market currencies also weakened Wednesday, with the dollar rising 0.4% and 0.3% against the South African rand and Turkish lira, respectively. On Tuesday, data showed that South Africa's economy shrank in the first quarter, leaving the country further behind its emerging-market peers and testing President Jacob Zuma's new cabinet at the outset of his second five-year term.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday criticized the central bank over high interest rates and urged it to lower rates to attract more investments to the country.
Beyond that, however, Citigroup strategists attributed the weakness to profit-taking as some currency pairs have reached "arguably stretched levels" over the last weeks.
The euro moved marginally lower against the dollar to trade at 1.3622, after figures out of Germany showed that the unemployment rate in the euro zone's largest economy stayed at a post-reunification low of 6.7% in May.
The number of jobless people, however, rose for the first time in six months, by a seasonally adjusted 24,000, missing expectations of a 15,000 drop. Jobless claims had fallen by 25,000 in April.
Later in the session, euro-area economic sentiment data are due, as well as the monthly euro-area money and credit supply report. Brazil's central bank is due to hold its policy meeting. Analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal predicted the central bank's monetary policy committee, known as the Copom, will keep its benchmark Selic rate unchanged.
The central bank has raised the Selic rate nine times over the past year, from a record low of 7.25% to the current level of 11%.
In commodities markets, gold dipped 0.1% to $1,2646.80 an ounce, while Brent crude oil gained 0.2% to $110.24 a barrel.