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European stocks were little changed, following two days of gains, as investors awaited a speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to gauge the central bank’s views on its stimulus program and interest rates.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index dropped 0.1 percent to 327.63 at the close of trading. The gauge slid 4.8 percent from Feb. 25 through the end of last week amid a standoff between Russia and the West over Crimea. It extended this week’s gain yesterday as Russian President Vladimir Putin said he isn’t seeking to annex other parts of Ukraine.
Fed officials today end a two-day policy meeting at which they will decide whether to slow the central bank’s monthly asset-purchase program. They will announce the outcome after European markets close, followed by Yellen’s speech.
The Federal Open Market Committee will cut its monthly bond buying by $10 billion to $55 billion and continue reductions at that pace at every meeting before announcing an end to the program at its Oct. 28-29 gathering, economists said in a survey. The Fed will also probably scrap its 6.5 percent jobless rate threshold to adopt qualitative guidance for signaling when it will consider raising the benchmark interest rate, according to the survey.
National benchmark indexes declined in 11 of the 18 western European markets. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 lost 0.5 percent, Germany’s DAX added 0.4 percent, and France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.1 percent.
Inditex climbed 4.9 percent to 108.10 euros after the owner of the Zara clothing chain said sales in local currencies rose 12 percent from Feb. 1 to March 15. Profit for 2013 totaled 2.38 billion euros ($3.31 billion), Inditex also said. That compared with the average analyst projection of 2.39 billion euros.
Brenntag AG gained 0.8 percent to 132 euros after recommending a payout of 2.60 euros per share, surpassing the Bloomberg Dividend estimate of 2.40 euros. The world’s largest distributor of chemicals also said it will propose a three-for-one stock split at its annual general meeting on June 17.
HeidelbergCement AG declined 1.8 percent to 60.22 euros after saying that net debt at Dec. 31, 2013 rose to 7.5 billion euros as it increased its stake in joint ventures and paid a fine for cartel infringements dating back to the 1990s. That exceeded the average analyst estimate of 7.2 billion euros.
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