European shares dip ahead of Fed decision
* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.3 pct, Euro STOXX 50 down 0.6 pct
* Risks seen 'neutral' to 'on the upside' ahead of FOMC
* Huge outflows from bonds, credit, going into cash -SocGen
PARIS, June 19 (Reuters) - European shares ended slightly lower on Wednesday in thin trading volumes, as investors awaited clues from the U.S. Federal Reserve about whether or not it will soon start to wind down its stimulus measures.
Investors avoided increasing their exposure to equities ahead of the Federal Open Market Committee's policy decision, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's press conference, both due after European markets' closing bell.
The Fed will likely say that it will keep buying bonds at a monthly pace of $85 billion, while keeping its options open to trim the quantitative easing programme later in the year if the U.S. labour market continues to pick up.
"Stocks have sharply dropped since late May, with the market now pricing in a cut of $20 billion in September or October on the amount of bonds bought every month," said David Thebault, head of quantitative sales trading, at Global Equities.
"So in terms of positioning, the risk for equities ahead of the FOMC is neutral to slightly on the upside, I'd say."
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares closed 0.3 percent lower, at 1,180.21 points, after spending the session in a tight range. The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index ended 0.6 percent lower, at 2,683.98.
Hardest-hit were Spain's IBEX, down 1 percent, and Italy's FTSE MIB, which slipped 0.9 percent. Banks UniCredit and BBVA each lost 1.6 percent.
Nokia was among the biggest gainers, up 3.4 percent after an executive from China's Huawei Technologies said the firm was "open-minded" about the possibility of buying the Finnish mobile phone group. Huawei later clarified it had no plans for an acquisition.
Telecom gear maker Alcatel-Lucent surged 6.2 percent after it unveiled an ambitious restructuring plan.
Despite the session's losses for the overall market, the Euro STOXX 50 volatility index, Europe's 'fear gauge' fell 2 percent and hit its lowest level in a week, a sign that investors were relatively sanguine ahead of the Fed decision.
The Euro STOXX 50 has lost nearly 6 percent in the last three weeks on worries the Fed could soon start to scale back its stimulus. Fixed income assets have suffered even more, with investment data showing a big switch out of credit and bonds.
"Until recently, credit, and especially high yield, was probably the most popular asset class among yield-deprived investors, with high levels of inflows giving a reassuring 'feel' of liquidity in the secondary market. But no longer," Societe Generale strategist Arthur van Slooten wrote in a note.
"Meanwhile, investors have started to return to cash rather than to equities as suggested by adepts of the big rotation thesis."