Europe stocks close up ahead of key rate meetings
European equities closed higher on Wednesday as investors reacted to earnings news and awaited monetary policy decisions from central banks in the U.K. and Europe.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index provisionally closed higher by 0.4 percent to 1,296.07 points, after data was released for the 17 nations that share the single currency.
Growth in euro zone business activity slowed in October, surveys showed, although the slowdown was less marked than originally thought. The Markit Eurozone PMI Composite Output Index fell from a 27-month high of 52.2 in September to 51.9 in October. A reading over 50 marks expansion.
(Read More: Euro zone business growth slows as hiring slips)
Insurance stocks posted the biggest gains. Dutch financial services group ING missed profit expectations on Wednesday but the group also announced that its restructuring was nearing completion. Shares closed higher by 3.49 percent.
(Read More: ING misses earnings but restructuring on track)
Energy firm Vestas boosted its closely watched cash flow forecast for 2013, evidence that protracted turnaround efforts may be taking hold even while revenue continues to fall. Shares closed higher by 14.91 percent.
Shares of Swiss human resources company Adecco closed higher by 3.63 percent after it announced it expected strong single-digit growth in 2014. Meanwhile, French power and engineering firm Alstom saw its shares close higher by over 5 percent after it released details of job cuts and a new cost-saving program.
Central banks watched
Despite individual earnings news, the global macroeconomic picture still loomed large over global markets. In Asia, Japan's benchmark index climbed 1 percent on Wednesday, while most other equity markets were range-bound as investors awaited further direction from global central banks.
The policy committees of the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England will meet on Thursday, while in the U.S., third-quarter gross domestic product is due Thursday and non-farm payrolls data is due Friday.
The data will help investors gauge whether or not the U.S. economy is improving. It follows a better-than-expected manufacturing report last Friday and stronger-than-expected U.S. service sector activity data released on Tuesday.
A growing number of economists expect the ECB to cut rates further when it meets on Thursday, following a drop in inflation to 0.7 percent in the year to October as well as the recent strength of the euro.
Gloomy forecasts from the European Commission, which said it expects the euro zone economy to shrink by 0.4 percent this year before recovering to grow by 1.1 percent in 2014, have also bolstered expectations for the ECB to cut interest rates when it meets.
Experian sinks 8%
In other stocks news, shares of U.K. credit provider Experian closed down by 6.4 percent after it announced on Wednesday that it would buy U.S. healthcare data from Passport Health Communications for $850 million.
Insurer Old Mutual reported a 14 percent increase of funds under management to 287.5 million pounds ($462 million) in the year to date on Wednesday, whilst sales were up 11 percent to 6.5 billion pounds in the three months to September 30. Shares closed higher by 2.3 percent.
(Read More: Old Mutual highlights 'healthy' emerging markets)
Vodafone rose to add to the FTSE 100, as analysts at Bernstein increased their price target on the telecoms group on the back of speculation of a possible merger with American peer AT&T. Vodafone clsoed higher by 1 percent.
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