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PARIS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - European stocks are set to rise on Thursday, lifted by renewed hopes of a deal in Washington to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of year-end tax hikes and spending cuts after reassuring comments from President Barack Obama. At 0715 GMT, futures for Euro STOXX 50, for Germany's DAX and for France's CAC were up 0.3-0.5 percent. Obama said on Wednesday a deal to avert the fiscal cliff was possible within a week, though he expressed it as a hope not a prediction. His comments boosted stocks on Wall Street and in Asia. Investors will keep a close eye on the European Central Bank on Thursday, which is expected to keep interest rates on hold but may offer clues on its policy path for next year with updated forecasts likely to present a grim outlook for the euro zone economy in 2013. European shares rose on Wednesday, with a number of key indexes testing their year high, helped by positive comments from China's new leader on the outlook for growth. The euro zone's blue chip Euro STOXX 50 index has gained 11.9 percent so far this year - on track to post its best annual performance since 2009 - propelled by significant measures unveiled by the European Central Bank to resolve the debt crisis that have soothed fears of break up of the euro zone. "The momentum is positive for equity markets, which remain cheap compared with credit and government bonds," said Frederic Jamet, head of management at State Street Global Advisors France. "The outlook for the asset class is bright, even though we haven't seen yet a massive switch towards equities." The Euro STOXX 50 tested its year high on Wednesday, a peak at 2,611 points hit in March, before retreating, while Germany's DAX, France's CAC 40 and the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares have all hit year highs this week. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- MARKET SNAPSHOT AT 0716 GMT LAST PCT CHG NET CHG S&P 500 1,409.28 0.16 % 2.23 NIKKEI 9,545.16 0.81 % 76.32 MSCI ASIA EX-JP 535.48 0.05 % 0.27 EUR/USD 1.3055 -0.08 % -0.0011 USD/JPY 82.42 -0.05 % -0.0400 10-YR US TSY YLD 1.584 -- -0.01 10-YR BUND YLD 1.353 -- 0.00 SPOT GOLD $1,689.30 -0.24 % -$4.11 US CRUDE $87.73 -0.17 % -0.15 > GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares nudge up on Obama 'fiscal cliff' comments > Dow, S&P rise, but Nasdaq sours with Apple in wild day > Tokyo's Nikkei share average closes up 0.81 pct > FOREX-Euro slips slightly ahead of ECB; jobs data lifts Aussie > Gold inches down; lower prices lure physical buyers > Copper takes breather after 5-day rally; US hopes support > Brent steadies below $109, econ worries hurt; Mideast tensions eyed COMPANY NEWS: HSBC HOLDINGS PLC The lender might pay a fine of $1.8 billion as part of a settlement with U.S. law-enforcement agencies over money-laundering lapses, according to several people familiar with the matter. BEIERSDORF The firm raised its sales growth forecast for both the group and the Consumer business segment to "well over 4 percent" on the back of a strong business performance and higher expectations for 2012, it said on Thursday. EADS. DAIMLER, LAGARDERE Shareholders in EADS announced on Wednesday they had reached agreement on the biggest shake-up of control in the aerospace company since it was founded over a decade ago, putting the bulk of its shares beyond government influence. The accord to wind down a complex Franco-German power-sharing pact came weeks after talks broke down to merge the group with UK defence contractor BAE Systems and borrows many of the mechanisms drawn up for the failed deal. GDF SUEZ The French utility on Wednesday said it would cut costs in a bid to bolster results by 3.5 billion euros a year starting in 2015 as it grapples with a 'challenging' European market. The group also said it was dissolving a pact binding water and waste company Suez Environnement's main shareholders as part of an effort to cut debt by one third over 2 years. Separately, Le Figaro.fr said the French government, which is due to announce revised gas tariffs on Dec 10, may decide on a hike of close to 3 percent. BANCA MONTE DEI PASCHI Standard & Poor's became the second credit ratings agency to cut Italian bank Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena to 'junk' status on Wednesday, saying planned state aid may not be enough to stop its capital and funding position from worsening. PPR The French retail group said on Wednesday its Redcats mail order unit had agreed to sell its U.S. plus-size fashion business, OneStopPlus Group, to private equity firms Charlesbank Capital Partners and Webster Capital for an enterprise value of $525 million. TELECOM ITALIA With a board meeting set for Thursday, Telecom Italia appears to be edging towards a spin-off of its fixed-line network in a move that could raise up to 5 billion euros to cut debt, boost broadband investment and potentially revive its shares. BARCLAYS South African bank Absa Group said on Thursday it will buy the African operations of its parent Barclays for $2.1 billion, finalising a longstanding plan to fuse their businesses on the fast-growing continent. EDF Moody's Investors Service said on Wednesday it had changed to negative from stable the outlook on the state-controlled utility's Aa3 senior unsecured debt ratings. The change of outlook follows a recent ruling by France's Conseil d'Etat which canceled the decision relating to the electricity distribution tariffs for the third regulatory period (2009-2013, known as TURPE), the statement said. SAIPEM, ENI The longstanding head of Italy's Saipem resigned on Wednesday after news that the oil services group was being investigated for corruption regarding contracts in Algeria. DEUTSCHE BANK Three former Deutsche Bank employees have filed complaints with the U.S. securities regulators claiming the bank failed to recognize up to $12 billion of unrealized losses during the financial crisis, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday. FINMECCANICA Political meddling and concern that a foreign owner could cut jobs is hindering the sale of Italian aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica's energy and transport subsidiaries, raising the prospect of a credit downgrade. LUXOTTICA, PRADA Italian eyewear maker Luxottica has renewed its license deal with luxury goods group Prada to the end of 2018, the two companies said on Wednesday. ROLLS-ROYCE The company said it had passed information to Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) relating to concerns about bribery and corruption involving its intermediaries in overseas markets. THYSSENKRUPP Three key executives at the company, Germany's biggest steelmaker, are leaving in a major board shake-up largely due to losses at Steel Americas, a flagship project the company is now trying to get rid of. STANDARD CHARTERED The firm expects to pay $330 million to settle a case with U.S. regulators who accused the Asia-focused bank of failing to comply with sanctions against Iran, further denting profit growth this year. WENDEL French investment company on Thursday posted a 39.3 percent rise in its net asset value over twelve months, boosted by a jump in the share prices of the listed companies it has stakes in.