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European Stocks Set to Ease, Barclays in Focus

European benchmark stock indexes are expected to open mostly down on Thursday in a session likely to be dominated by French earnings and key inflation data for the United States and the euro zone that could dictate the central banks' next move.

British bank Barclays said its investment bank unit made a 1.3 billion pound ($2.7 billion) writedown due to its exposure to credit market problems in the four months to the end of October.

Wall Street on Wednesday reversed some of the week's gains as concern over the fallout from the housing downturn and liquidity crisis continued. After the closing bell, a report of possible trouble at a General Electric Asset Management bond fund emerged, which may weigh on U.S. stocks on Thursday.

In Europe, some CAC-40 heavyweights report results including utility Suez, oil services group Technip and Atos Origin.

Trading could be fairly volatile ahead of monthly consumer inflation data for both the euro zone and its largest economy, Germany, and for the United States.

The European Central Bank this month left interest rates unchanged at 4.0 percent but policymakers have repeatedly warned inflation expectations could increase in the face of rising food and energy prices and reiterated the bank's goal of containing price pressures.

In Germany, rail workers began a 62-hour national strike on freight routes on Wednesday and planned to escalate the strike on Thursday in their long-running wage dispute with rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

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