LONDON Feb 28 (Reuters) - European shares headed for a steady open on Friday after falls in the past three days, with traders expecting that a further drop in euro zone inflation may prompt the European Central Bank to ease policy further and boost cyclical stocks.
Figures due at 1000 GMT are likely to show inflation in the currency bloc falling to 0.7 percent in February from 0.8 percent in the previous month, according to a Reuters survey, but some analysts expected an even lower reading.
"There is a non-negligible risk that euro zone inflation surprises to the downside again, to 0.6 percent year-on-year," Credit Agricole said in a note.
"It remains a fairly close call whether the ECB eases monetary policy as soon as next week, with all options open, but on balance the most recent set of information supports our forecast of a small Refi rate cut on 6 March alongside possible liquidity action and/or guidance."
One-third of economists polled by Reuters have pencilled in a cut in the ECB's refinancing rate from the current 0.25 percent at its March 6 meeting.
At 0751 GMT, futures for the Euro STOXX 50, Britain's FTSE 100, Germany's DAX and France's CAC were flat to 0.1 percent higher.
However, the market remained vulnerable to a further sell-off following disappointing results from some companies.
Bayer, Germany's largest drugmaker, was seen opening 1.6 percent lower after posting a 3.1 percent decline in adjusted core earnings, while Dutch oil and chemicals storage company Vopak reported a fall in fourth-quarter operating profit and said it would struggle to beat its record 2012 profit this year.
According to Thomson Reuters StarMine data, 72 percent European companies have announced fourth-quarter results so far, of which 56 percent have met or beaten analysts forecasts.
In the overseas market, the U.S. S&P 500 closed at a record on Thursday and ended in positive territory for the year after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said harsh weather seems to be to behind recent U.S. economic softness.
In Europe, the FTSEurofirst 300 index which fell 1.0 percent earlier in the day on poor company news and Ukraine tensions, ended 0.2 percent lower at 1,345.46 points, helped by data showing orders for U.S. manufactured goods excluding transportation unexpectedly rose last month.
Europe bourses in 2014:
Asset performance in 2014:---------------------------------------------------------------- -------------= > Asian stocks advance, take comfort from Yellen's comments > S&P 500 ends at record after Yellen's weather talk
> Nikkei flat in choppy trade; Ukraine tension saps risk appetite > Prices rise on unrest, demand strong at auction
> NZ dollar hits 7-week high; euro awaits inflation data
> Gold heads for biggest monthly gain since July
> Copper eyes flat month for February, China worries drag
> Brent slips below $109 as severe winter eases
Germany's largest drugmaker posted a 3.1 percent decline in adjusted core earnings, dampened by a weak Japanese yen and emerging-market currencies, which lowered the euro value of its sales abroad.
The Panama Canal and a Spanish-led consortium expanding the major maritime artery have reached a preliminary deal to complete work on a project stymied in a row over $1.6 billion in cost overruns, the canal's administrator said on Thursday.
INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES GROUP
The company reported consensus-beating annual profits on a strong performance from British Airways and its low-cost Spain-based carrier Vueling, and said it was on track to meet its 2015 targets.
The betting firm said it plans to save 15-20 million pounds ($33.34 million) in costs in 2015 to offset a planned tax on online operations, as it lifts its dividend up to 11.6 pence per share.
UK services firm Rentokil said on Friday it had agreed to sell its Initial Facilities business for 250 million pounds ($416.78 million) to Interserve Plc.
Spain's government launches sale of 7.5 percent stake in nationalised lender Bankia, which was the country's biggest bailed-out bank during the euro crisis.
The Dutch oil and chemicals storage company reported a fall in fourth-quarter operating profit, reflecting weaker demand for oil in the Netherlands, and said it would struggle to beat its record 2012 profit this year.
BOUYGUES, VIVENDI, NUMERICABLE
French third-place mobile operator Bouygues has hired investment banks HSBC and Rothschild to advise it on a potential tie-up with larger rival SFR, two people close to the situation said.
Builder ACS swung back into the black in 2013 and cut net debt. Also, the Spanish firm is set to gain more control at Hochtief after the German builder announced plans to buy back some shares.
Austrian lender Erste Group aims to keep operating profit roughly steady this year as key markets in Austria and central and eastern Europe stabilise, it said on Friday.
Telefonica sees signs of a rebound but remains vulnerable to Latin American jitters and tough European markets.
The French company signed a new agreement with Sony to use its patents for Sony's Digital TVs.
The French bank has agreed to pay $122 million to settle a lawsuit by a U.S. regulator accusing the bank of misleading Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the purchase of mortgage-backed securities.
The company adjusted the ratio at which a bond it issued is convertible into Aurubis AG NAFG.DE shares to reflect the copper smelter's annual dividend.
The drugmaker posted a 0.3 percent rise in full-year total sales to 1.28 billion euros, while operating profit rose 63 percent to 191 million. It forecast Specialty Care drug sales growth of 4-6 percent this year.
The Finnish pulp and paper maker said it plans to invest 160 million euros ($219 million) to boost pulp production at its Kymi mill. It also said it would save 113 million euros by trimming down infrastructure investments at its paper site in Changshu, China.
Actelion Ltd, Europe's biggest biotech company, said on Thursday that the U.S. health regulator is granting fast-track status to its antibiotic treatment for diarrhoea.
A New York appeals court on Thursday revived Assured Guaranty Corp's claims for certain damages in its lawsuit against Credit Suisse Group AG over allegedly defective loans underlying mortgage-backed securities.
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