European shares steady, with ECB in focus

LONDON, April 3 Thu Apr 3, 2014 3:15am EDT

LONDON, April 3 (Reuters) - European shares steadied on Thursday, with many investors holding fire to see whether the European Central Bank would give more signs it is ready to fight disinflationary pressures weighing on the euro zone.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was flat at 1,343.90 points in early session trading. The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index was also flat at 3,188.24 points.

The FTSEurofirst 300 has risen for the last seven sessions in a row, partly due to speculation that the ECB may signal it is prepared to cut deposit rates below zero - effectively charging banks to hold cash with the bank - or embarking on bond purchases as the United States, Japan and Britain have.

However, economists expect the ECB to keep interest rates steady and offer no new aid to the euro zone's fragile recovery despite a fall in inflation to its lowest in more than four years.

"I think the market has got ahead of itself, ahead of the ECB," said Courtney-Cook, head of trading at Central Markets Investment Management, adding there was a risk that equity markets may sell off after the ECB's meeting.

The ECB will announce its interest rate decision at 1145 GMT on Thursday and ECB President Mario Draghi will explain any further policy decisions at a news conference at 1230 GMT at the central bank's Frankfurt headquarters. (Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Francesco Canepa)