LONDON, March 7 (Reuters) - European shares headed for a steady open on Friday, with investors seen avoiding strong bets ahead of U.S. jobs data that could provide fresh hints about the health of the economy and set the market's near-term direction.
U.S. non-farm payrolls are forecast to have risen by 149,000 in February, up from the weather-depressed gains of 113,000 in January. Analysts said expectations may have been lowered by the soft ADP private-sector jobs report and ISM services sector survey released earlier this week.
The widely-tracked jobs report could also provide clues about the U.S. Federal Reserve's likely move to further trim its stimulus, analysts said.
"A disappointing number will be neglected by investors as February was still adversely impacted by winter weather," Ruland Research analyst Heino Ruland, said.
"In the near term, I am quite bullish for equities. It becomes clearer by the day that growth resumed in the euro area, even though below potential growth, which means that interest rates will begin rising but stay comparatively low thereby increasing the relative attractiveness of equity valuations."
IG expected the jobs number to rise to 185,000, higher than the market consensus, while KBC saw the figure at 200,000.
"Consumption and investments are still strong, and since the weather was a little bit better than last month, a rebound is possible. However, the risks on this number is more on the downside than on the upside," Koen De Leus, senior economist at KBC, in Brussels, said.
At 0720 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.
European shares gave up their gains on Thursday after the European Central Bank chose not to take action to inject more liquidity into the region's financial system, disappointing some investors. The FTSEurofirst 300 ended the day flat at 1,344.56 points.
The markets have been volatile in the past sessions following political tension in Ukraine, with investors staying cautious in buying riskier assets such as equities.
President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered sanctions on people responsible for Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, including travel bans and freezing of their U.S. assets, and said a referendum by the region to join Russia would violate international law.
Europe bourses in 2014:
Asset performance in 2014:--------------------------------------------------------------------------- > Asian shares up, mood cautious before U.S. jobs data > S&P 500 ends at record on jobless data; payrolls eyed > Nikkei rises to fresh 5-week high on strong US data, ECB decision > Bond prices fall as Ukraine crisis calms, payrolls awaited > Euro clings to post-ECB gains, U.S. jobs data eyed > Gold steady, set for 5th week of gains on safe-haven demand > Nickel in longest winning streak since 2010 on Indonesia ban > Brent climbs toward $108.50 on Ukraine crisis; US data eyed
The European plane-maker has ordered increased inspections of A380 wings after discovering unexpected levels of metal fatigue during testing on a factory mock-up, industry sources said on Thursday.
Separately, China's Juneyao Group, the parent of Juneyao Airlines, is in talks with planemaker Boeing and Airbus about acquiring more than 20 more planes in a deal that may be worth more than $1.8 billion, its chairman said on Thursday.
France's Numericable does not intend to raise its bid that values Vivendi's telecom unit SFR at 14.5 billion euros excluding synergies because it believes it is better than a rival offer, said two people close to the situation.
Bouygues, the group with a telecoms arm which has made an indicative offer for rival SFR, is aiming to complete the deal without having to cut staff, its head told Les Echos in an interview published on Friday.
Swiss drugmaker Novartis said on Friday a final stage test of Jakavi, used to treat patients with a rare blood cancer, had met its primary endpoint and improved two key measures of disease control in patients.
The company expects to turn a profit with trucks in India in 2017, board member Wolfgang Bernhard told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an interview published on Friday Related news
The company plans to increase investment in the United States and hire more workers in the country, Chief Executive Joe Kaeser told Handelsblatt, without being more specific. Related news
Fraport, the operator of Frankfurt airport, said on Friday it expected net profit to rise slightly in the current year after falling more than 6 percent in 2013, as passenger growth improves.
Finland's financial industry watchdog issued a warning to the Finnish subsidiary of Nordea, the biggest bank in the Nordic region, for repeated delays in transmitting bank payments.
THE SWISS NATIONAL BANK
The central bank reported a loss for 2013, as profit from its foreign currency reserves failed to offset a decline in the valuation of its gold holdings after the price of the precious metal slumped last year.
An Italian appeals court will decide on Friday whether to uphold a ruling that found four international banks, including UBS, guilty of fraud and mis-selling of derivatives to the city of Milan, in a case that highlighted the opaque finances of many Italian municipalities.
German diversified chemicals maker Evonik plans to top up its annual dividend by almost 9 percent even after sounding a cautious note about this year's earnings outlook.
French energy group Total aims to raise around 750 million euros ($1.04 billion) from selling its liquefied gas unit TotalGaz, French daily Les Echos reports on Friday, citing unidentified sources.
Italian cement maker Italcementi's rights-issue plan envisages also a mandatory conversion of saving shares into ordinary ones and the launch of a takeover bid for its French unit Ciments Francais, the company said.
The company said it has initiated - as LVMH has done - a process with a view to converting its legal status from that of a French public limited-liability company to that of a European Company.