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GLOBAL MARKETS-Euro firm, shares soften as ECB seen on hold

Richard Hubbard
Thursday, 7 Nov 2013 | 4:28 AM ET

* Euro edges up as ECB seen holding rates

* Looming U.S. Q3 GDP and jobs data keeps markets cautious

* European shares softer though hold near 5-yr highs

* Commodities eye ECB, U.S. data for direction

LONDON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The euro crept higher on Thursday as investors expected the European Central Bank to resist pressure to cut rates, while world shares dipped before U.S. data which could set the course for the Federal Reserve's policy.

A sharp fall in euro zone inflation last week increased uncertainty over the ECB's policy decision today but a run of robust data in the last few days, pointing to a gradual if still weak recovery, have dampened the chances of any move.

"The general view is there a very small chance of a rate cut at today's meeting although our own view is a move in December is likely," said Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN AMRO.

Before the ECB decision, due at 1245 GMT, the single currency had edged up 0.1 percent to reach $1.3520 as it pulled away from a near two-month low of $1.3442 set on Monday.

The dollar was little changed against a basket of six major currencies after falling 0.2 percent on Wednesday.

European share markets opened mostly weaker though Germany's DAX held firm on expectations that industrial production data for September, due at 1100 GMT, will add to a picture of a strengthening economy.

"Industrial production has the potential to surprise to the upside, which would be good news because it would show the German economy is regaining strength," said Carsten Brzeski, senior economist at ING.

Europe's broad FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 0.1 percent by 0830 GMT, not far from the five-year highs it has recently reached on the equity-friendly monetary policy of major world central banks.

The cautious mood among equity investors was reflected earlier in Asia where MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.4 percent. Japan's Nikkei share average dropped 0.8 percent.

Overall MSCI world equity index, tracking share moves in 45 countries, was down around 0.15 percent though holding close to its best level since the start of 2008.

FED FACTORS

After the ECB decision, the market's attention will turn to the United States and the release of the first estimate of third-quarter GDP growth, which economists surveyed by Reuters forecast to a show a 2.0 percent annualised growth.

This data, combined with Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls report, will provide the best chance for investors to gauge when the Federal Reserve might begin winding down its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying programme.

New research papers from two top Fed economists released on Wednesday called for the U.S. central bank to drive down unemployment by promising to hold interest rates lower for longer.

That helped U.S. stocks rise on Wednesday, where the Dow Jones industrial average hit a record high and the S&P 500 index ended just shy of its record, though stock index futures point to some retracement of the gains when Wall St opens.

Among commodities, Brent crude futures slipped to a four month low $104.80 a barrel as investors chose to stay away before the big announcements, which will influence the demand outlook. Brent was down 36 cents at $104.89 by 0900 GMT.

"Overall, we will see oil and other markets trade in a tight range today as everybody is waiting for ECB's interest rate decision and U.S. GDP numbers," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at OptionsXpress.

Gold was also steady, at just below $1,315.60 an ounce, pausing after gaining 0.5 percent on Wednesday.