EU Stocks to Open Mixed, on Debt, Rates Expectations

European shares were seen mixed on Thursday, as investors take a breather after a brisk two-day rally, bracing for further debt auctions in the euro zone as well as interest rate decisions.

Sharon Lorimer

On Thursday, all eyes will be on the European Central Bank, which is expected to keep rates on hold at its monthly rate-setting meeting.

The ECB held its main rate at 1 percent for the 19th month in a row in December.

A Reuters poll of economists released last Thursday showed the ECB holding rates at 1.0 percent until the fourth quarter, during which they see a 25 basis point hike — a quarter sooner than forecast in December's long-term economy poll.

The Bank of England also holds its monthly meeting and is expected to keep rates steady at the record low of 0.5 percent and leave quantitative easing unchanged at 200 billion pounds.

But BoE policymakers may be reluctant to unsettle investors by ruling out any additional quantitative easing because they will want to see how government spending cuts hit activity when they start to take effect in 2011.

News of the central banks' decisions will likely overshadow economic data due out on Tuesday, including, UK industrial production figures for November and French inflation data for December.

The Italian Treasury plans to sell bonds maturing in 2015 and 2026 on Thursday, while Spain will seek to sell 2-3 billion euros of five-year government bonds at a closely-watched auction.

On Wednesday, Portugal sold 1.249 billion euros ($1.61 billion) in government bonds, at the top end of its indicative offer, with yields falling slightly on 10-year bonds. Analysts said the auction was a success, and that it eased the immediate pressure on the country to seek a bailout from the European Union.