Europe Shares Trim Losses to Close Flat

European shares trimmed losses to close flat on Wednesday, as investors awaited the minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting, and a speech by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, for signs of when the central bank might scale back its asset-purchases.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index closed provisionally down 0.03 percent at 1,188.49 points, having traded in-and-out of positive territory during the session.

European shares were held back by dismal trade numbers from China - a major commodities importer - which caused European basic resources stocks to close lower around 1.1 percent lower.

Britain's FTSE 100 closed provisionally down 0.3 percent, while the German DAX and French CAC-40 closed down 0.1 and 0.2 percent respectively.

Meanwhile, the minutes of the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee)'s June meeting will be released at 7 p.m. London time with Bernanke due to speak shortly afterwards. The focus will be on any extra information about when the central bank is likely to ease the stimulus program, which has helped markets to all-time highs in recent months.

"The main focus today will likely be on the release of the minutes from the June FOMC meeting, in which the debate related to Bernanke's post-meeting comments about tapering asset purchases will be of particular interest. And this evening Bernanke might provide further color as he gives a speech on economic policy in Boston," Emily Nicol, an economist at Daiwa Capital, said in a morning note.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped into negative territory, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq wavered in a narrow range.

"Everyone will be watching the Fed minutes," said Gene Goldman, director of research at Cetera Financial Group.

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Back in Europe, S&P lowered Italy's sovereign credit rating to BBB from BBB-plus on Tuesday, citing the country's weak economic prospects. The new rating is two notches above "junk" status. The agency gave Italy a "negative" outlook.

Italy's FTSEMIB provisionally closed 0.7 percent lower on Wednesday.

In Britain, the government unveiled plans to float a majority stake in postal operator Royal Mail later in the financial year, promising free shares for employees, who are still opposed to the country's biggest privatization in decades.

The initial public offering (IPO) is expected to value Royal Mail at up to 3 billion pounds ($4.45 billion).