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Europe stocks close higher after Italy budget breakthrough; Fed meeting in focus; GSK jumps 4.4%

Key Points
  • Italy's FTSE MIB was the top-performing index in Europe, after Italy and the EU announced they had struck a new budget deal.
  • Market focus is largely attuned to a spectacular drop in crude futures, with Brent crude and U.S. light crude falling sharply overnight.
  • Market participants still widely expect the Fed to announce a quarter-point rate hike on Wednesday.

European stocks were higher Wednesday, after Italy and the European Union reached a breakthrough on Rome's 2019 budget plans and as traders geared up for the Federal Reserve's latest monetary policy decision.

European Markets: FTSE, GDAXI, FCHI, IBEX

The pan-European Stoxx 600 provisionally closed 0.46 percent higher, with most sectors and major bourses in positive territory. Italy's FTSE MIB was the top-performing index in Europe, up 1.7 percent, after Italy and the EU announced they had struck a new budget deal. The two have agreed to a 2019 deficit target of 2.04 percent, down from an initial target of 2.4 percent.

Continental banking stocks jumped more than 0.3 percent following the news, boosted by Italy's notoriously fragile lenders. Italy's Unicredit, Ubi Banca and Banco BPM were all trading more than 2 percent higher on the news. The euro also climbed on the back of the news, at one stage up nearly 0.6 percent to $1.1428.

Looking at individual stocks, Britain's GlaxoSmithKline said it planned to split into two businesses on Wednesday. One side would deal with prescription drugs and vaccines and the other would focus on over-the-counter products. The revamp comes after the London-listed company formed a new joint venture with Pfizer's consumer health division. Shares of GlaxoSmithKline rose 4.3 percent.

Meanwhile, France's Natixis slumped toward the bottom of the benchmark during deals. The lender said late Tuesday it had booked 260 million euros ($296 million) of losses on poorly performing Asian derivatives. The announcement prompted shares to fall 6.7 percent on Wednesday.

On the data front, Britain's inflation rate fell to a 20-month low in November, according to official data published Wednesday. The news is thought to offer some relief to consumers who have adopted a cautious approach to spending ahead of Brexit. Sterling traded slightly higher to around $1.266.

Fed rate decision

Market focus is largely attuned to a spectacular drop in crude futures, with international benchmark Brent crude and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) falling sharply overnight.

The declines have added to mounting pressure on the Fed to consider abandoning its commitment to yet more interest rate hikes.

Complicating matters for the central bank, President Donald Trump warned Tuesday that it must tread carefully in order not to "make yet another mistake," while a Wall Street Journal editorial called for a pause.

"We don't feel there's any reason to hike today," Brett Ewing, chief market strategist at First Franklin, told CNBC's "Street Signs Europe" on Wednesday. "I think the Fed has put themselves in a box and guided the market into this hike."

He added: "When you look at the inflation numbers here in the United States, they've actually been moderating here for the last four or five months."

Nonetheless, market participants still widely expect the Fed to announce a quarter-point rate hike on Wednesday.

By the time of the European close, the S&P 500 index in the United States was around 0.6 percent higher.