European stocks downbeat before Fed minutes

Londo - European stock markets mostly eased on Wednesday as traders awaited clues from the Federal Reserve on the outlook for US interest rates.

London's FTSE 100 was down a few points after the benchmark index hit record highs on Tuesday.

In the eurozone, Frankfurt's DAX 30 index fell 0.2% and the Paris CAC 40 lost 0.1% compared with Tuesday's closing values.

Wall Street opened firm, but still around 80 points short of the landmark 20 000 point on the Dow.

The dollar was lower against major rivals following a robust showing Tuesday.

"The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for only the second time in a decade in December and the only time in 2016 but warned that three more (rate hikes) could follow this year," noted Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda trading group.

"While this exceeded market expectations at the time, investors have since been undeterred by more rate hikes which would suggest there's more faith in the recovery, aided most likely by the expectation of fiscal stimulus from the Trump administration."

Ahead of the publication of the minutes of the Fed's December meeting on Wednesday, investors digested a survey showing that eurozone business activity hit its highest rate since May 2011 in December.

Data monitoring company IHS Markit said its report suggested the 19-nation eurozone economy was set for solid growth but nothing could be guaranteed as "political uncertainty dominates" - an apparent reference to the election of Donald Trump and continuing turmoil over Brexit.

Official data meanwhile showed that eurozone inflation jumped to 1.1% in December, the highest level for more than three years, boosted by rising oil prices.

In the UK, British clothing retailer Next warned of a tougher trading year ahead as a weak pound caused by Brexit uncertainty pushes up raw material costs.

'Investors wary'

Shares in Next slid more than 12% on the news, dragging down stock values of clothing competitors Marks and Spencer and Associated British Foods, which owns also budget garment chain Primark.

"Next's downbeat trading statement is weighing heavily on retail stocks," said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital.

"Investors are clearly wary... with Brexit, inflation and a weak pound all a major concern."

Elsewhere Wednesday, Asian stock markets finished flat or higher, with Tokyo leading the charge playing catch-up in its first day of trading after an extended new year break.

The Tokyo bourse finished 2016 at its highest year-end close for two decades, boosted by expectations of big government spending under Trump to further power the world's biggest economy.

Oil prices meanwhile rebounded Wednesday on bargain buying following sharp falls overnight, but analysts said gains were tempered by a strong dollar and doubts about the impact of an output cut by producers.

Tuesday's rise in the US currency on the back of positive economic data made dollar-priced oil more expensive for holders of other units, denting demand.

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