LONDON – European stocks pushed ahead Thursday after cash-strapped Spain got through another set of bond auctions unscathed and ahead of the latest policy statement from the European Central Bank’s president Mario Draghi.
The Spanish Treasury said it raised (euro) 2.52 billion ($3.3 billion) in 3- and 5-year bonds, slightly above the target range of (euro) 1.5 billion to (euro) 2.5 billion. However, it did have to pay more to investors to part with their cash, in a sign that the country’s economy remains a concern.
The auctions came ahead of the monthly ECB meeting, which is taking place this time in Barcelona. Though the ECB is expected to keep its benchmark interest rate at the record low of 1 percent, investors will be more interested to hear what Draghi says about the state of the eurozone economy and what policy tools, if any, the bank has at its disposal to kickstart growth.
Figures released Wednesday showed the eurozone unemployment rate rose to a record high of 10.9 percent and that a downturn in manufacturing deepened, reinforcing fears over the impact of government-backed austerity measures.
Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital, said there was a “good case” for the ECB to consider cutting interest rates at the meeting though it’s more likely it will remain in “wait and see” mode.
A cut, MacKinnon said, would “at least signal that the ECB was taking seriously recent talk about the need for an economic growth strategy.”
The pressure on Europe’s policymakers to come up with measures to boost growth has grown over the past few weeks. Even Draghi has spoken of the need for a “growth compact” alongside the “fiscal compact” governments agreed earlier this year to keep their budgets under much tighter control.
Polls suggest that Francois Hollande will defeat Nicolas Sarkozy in this Sunday’s presidential election and that may lead to a different emphasis in Europe’s ongoing struggle to deal with its debt problems.
Outside of Europe, investors will be keeping a close watch on the next round of U.S. economic data later in the day, which includes the monthly non-manufacturing survey from the Institute for Supply Management. A stronger than anticipated manufacturing report on Tuesday helped the Dow Jones industrial average close at its highest level in nearly five years.
Weekly jobless claims figures will also feature as traders position themselves for Friday’s closely-watched nonfarm payrolls data, which often set the market tone for a week or two after their release. A weak private payrolls survey from ADP on Wednesday dampened expectations over Friday’s official government data.
By late morning in Europe, stocks were enjoying a solid day, with the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares up 0.4 percent at 5,778 and Germany’s DAX 1.1 percent higher at 6,780. The CAC-40 in France rose 1.1 percent at 3,261.
Wall Street was poised for a flat opening with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures unchanged.
Trading in the currency markets was subdued with the euro 0.1 percent lower at $1.3137.
Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.3 percent to 21,249.53, a day after posting strong gains. But mainland Chinese shares edged higher, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index up 0.1 percent at 2,440.08 and the Shenzhen Composite Index gaining 0.6 percent to 961.99. Markets in Japan were closed for a public holiday.
Oil prices slipped slightly, with the benchmark New York rate down 47 cents at $104.75 a barrel.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.