* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.1 pct, slips from 2-month high
* Standard Life jumps on news of Canadian unit sale
* Big open interests for calls on euro zone bank index
By Francesco Canepa and Blaise Robinson
LONDON/PARIS, Sept 4 European shares marked time
on Thursday after sharp gains in the previous session as
investors waited to see whether the European Central Bank would
unveil further measures to avoid deflation.
Shares in Standard Life bucked the trend and surged
7.9 percent after the financial services group agreed to sell
its Canadian operations for about $3.7 billion to Manulife
At 0929 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top
European shares was down 0.1 percent at 1,384.23 points, edging
off a two-month high hit in the previous session.
The benchmark index has gained nearly 7 percent since early
August, fuelled by speculation the ECB may do more to stimulate
the economy, possibly launching an asset-purchase programme,
known in the market as quantitative easing (QE).
"Stocks have been retracing the summer correction, but the
rally now lacks momentum ahead of the ECB. A lot has been priced
in already so risks are on the downside if Draghi disappoints,"
FXCM analyst Vincent Ganne said.
The ECB faces intense market pressure to take policy action
on Thursday and risks losing credibility if it fails to back up
a dovish message delivered by President Mario Draghi late last
Though other central banks have used QE, hawkish members of
the ECB's 24-member policymaking council are resistant.
"If he announces quantitative easing, and I would be
surprised, we would see a rally," Shai Heffetz, managing
director of spreadbetting firm InterTrader, said.
"The combination of comments about a weak European economy
and no action, however, may cause the market to come off."
Heffetz said he would buy on any market dip, however, in
light of improving economic data outside Europe, and especially
in Britain and the United States, and easy monetary conditions.
According to BNP Paribas equity derivative strategists,
investor sentiment towards euro zone banks was bullish ahead of
the ECB rate decision and press conference at 1230 GMT.
"Open interests for call options on the STOXX 600 euro zone
bank index have surged over the last week. 1.5 billion
euros notional was traded since the beginning of this week,
compared to 500 million euros on puts," the strategists said in
The ratio measuring the number of negative 'put' options
versus bullish 'call' options on the euro zone's blue-chip Euro
STOXX 50 index - the most liquid European market for
options traders - has dropped sharply in the past three weeks,
hitting 0.93 earlier this week, down from 2.45 in early August.
The euro zone banking index - which has surged 12
percent since early August but remains 9 percent below the
year's highs hit in April - was down 0.1 percent on Thursday.
Among mid-cap stocks, German industrial services and
construction group Bilfinger tumbled 10.6 percent
after it slashed its 2014 profit forecasts late on Wednesday.
The group said it needed a "fundamental reassessment of the
situation" in its power division, which accounted for a third of
its operating profit last year.
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today's European research round-up
(Editing by Susan Fenton)