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GLOBAL MARKETS-Euro, shares steady as ECB decision nears

Richard Hubbard
Thursday, 7 Nov 2013 | 6:50 AM ET

* Euro firm as ECB expected to leave rates unchanged

* Markets cautious before U.S. Q3 GDP and jobs data

* European shares softer though near 5-year highs

* Brent oil hits fresh 4-month low at $104.40 a barrel

LONDON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The euro held firm as investors questioned how far the ECB would go on Thursday in hinting at policy easing, though world shares weakened before U.S. data which could set the course for the Federal Reserve's policy.

A sharp fall in euro zone inflation last week had 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, has cut the likelihood of a 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 euro was holding steady at around $1.3510 having 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 were slightly softer but the approaching the ECB decision, a heavy slew of corporate earnings and the all-important U.S. jobs data due on Friday was keeping the market in a cautious mood.

The Bank of England also holds a policy meeting on Thursday at which it is expected to leave rates unchanged.

"There is a lot for investors to digest today and tomorrow, with some potentially choosing to take profit," Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said.

Weaker-than-expected German industrial output data for September had little impact because on a two-month average the numbers still suggest Europe's largest economy remains on the path to recovery.

Europe's broad FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 0.1 percent by 1100 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 $104.40 a barrel as plentiful supplies and ongoing progress in talks between Iran and the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme weighed on prices.

"A combination of bearish factors is pressuring the price: most importantly, there is overwhelming global supply with additional OPEC capacity expected before the end of the year," Andrey Kryuchenkov of VTB Capital said.

Gold was steadier, at just below $1,315.80 an ounce, pausing after gaining 0.5 percent on Wednesday.