European Shares Hold onto Gains After ECB Decision


European stocks inched higher around midday on Thursday, although trading was choppy as investors avoided taking big bets before ECB chief Mario Draghi's press conference.

The European Central Bank is seen keeping interest rates on hold, with the decision due at 1145 GMT, and investors will focus on Draghi's briefing and whether he will try to dampen expectations of an interest rate rise.

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European money market rates have recently risen on strong economic data and anticipation of the U.S. Federal Reserve scaling back its quantitative easing programme.

At 1037 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.3 percent at 1,219.21 points, after hitting its highest level since Aug. 26.

"People are waiting for cues from the central banks, and there is just no real trend on the market at the moment," said Guillaume Dumans, co-head of research firm 2Bremans.

"There are always good intraday levels, but this is for short-term tactical moves and we recommend staying liquid."

The market continued to find support in a recent wave of M&A, with Telecom Italia surging 5.6 percent on renewed deal speculation.

Italian daily la Repubblica reported on Thursday that Executive Chairman Franco Bernabe plans to propose to the board a reserved capital increase to bring in a new investor, while MF daily mentioned a number of options including a possible offer by AT&T and a merger with Spain's Telefonica

The FTSEurofirst 300 is up 10 percent since late June, although the index has lost steam in the past two weeks as concerns over Syria and Fed policy prompted investors to book profits.

Talks on how to deal with Syria's civil war were likely to dominate the G20 meeting of the world's major nations in Russia on Thursday.

Despite the risks seen for equities in the short term, Christophe Jaubert, CIO hedge fund strategies at Rothschild HDF Investment Solutions, sees more room on the upside in the medium term.

"Equities is the best asset class at the moment. U.S. stocks are starting to trade a bit above 'fair value' however, but European shares are definitely attractive," he said.

"All in all, fundamentals are back in the spotlight and that's what will drive the market, instead of the big macro fears of the past few years. Stock pickers thrive again."