Stocks Hold Firm Ahead of ECB Decision

-- Government bond yields fall

-- ECB policy statement due

-- U.S. inflation data expected

Global stocks wavered ahead of expected stimulus from the European Central Bank, though Asian shares got a boost after the White House delayed extra tariffs on Chinese imports.

With trade talks due to be held in Washington next month between the U.S. and China, President Trump postponed new tariffs on $250 billion in goods that were due to take effect on Oct. 1 by two weeks, a conciliatory gesture that could point to easing tensions.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.2%. The contracts don't necessarily predict movements after the opening bell.

Stocks were broadly higher across Asia, with the Shanghai Composite and Japan's Nikkei both up 0.8%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was an outlier, slipping 0.3%.

The offshore yuan was up 0.4% against the U.S. dollar. The yuan's relative weakness has been a source of tension between the countries in recent weeks, with the U.S. accusing China of currency manipulation after a sharp depreciation in the yuan.

In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 edged down 0.1%, reversing earlier gains after a German economic institute said a recession is likely in the continent's largest economy.

Investors were focused on the European Central Bank's policy decision due later Thursday, where expectations were high for a stimulus package. Analysts anticipate an interest-rate cut of at least a 10 basis points to its key deposit rate. The policy statement is due at 1:45 p.m. in Frankfurt.

"The ECB is running out of options to counter the gloom," said Robert McAdie, chief cross-asset strategist at BNP Paribas.

There was "some degree of dissent" between decision makers at the ECB about how to press ahead with measures, said David Owen, chief European economist at Jefferies, making it difficult to predict a likely outcome.

"The slowdown in the eurozone is not about domestic forces but global trade more generally," Mr. Owen said.

Other efforts from the ECB to support growth may include measures to cushion banks from the impact of negative interest rates, which can put pressure on profits. Many investors were also predicting a return to quantitative easing, by way of restarting the ECB's asset-purchase program.

The level of asset purchases, with market expectations set around EUR30 billion a month, would be important for investors, said Hugh Gimber, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Anything significantly above that threshold would be regarded as "very good news" by markets, he said. Holding off on special measures for banks to mitigate the impact of negative interest rates might also appeal to current President Mario Draghi, as he prepares to leave his role and pass on to his expected successor, Christine Lagarde.

"It will be positive for the market if investors believe that Lagarde still has room for maneuver when she comes in," Mr. Gimber said. That room could also include further interest-rate cuts, he said.

Government bond yields, which had climbed in recent days, were down across the board in Europe. Germany's 10-year bund fell to minus 0.579%.

The U.S. benchmark 10-year Treasury yield fell to 1.725%, from 1.733% on Wednesday, after posting three straight days of gains. Bond prices fall as yields rise.

Inflation data from the U.S., expected later Thursday, could have an impact on Federal Reserve decision makers ahead of their meeting next week. Recent updates to the consumer-price index from the Labor Department suggested inflation might be making a comeback.

With strong wage growth reported last month, prices may continue to rebound after a weak start to the year. Excluding volatile sectors like fuel and food, so-called core CPI should have risen 0.2% in August, economists expect.

Figures will also be released on the number of weekly U.S. jobless claims, with an expectation of 216,000, compared with last week's 217,000.

In commodities, Brent crude dropped 1% to $60.24 a barrel. Gold rose 0.6%, extending its climb that followed Mr. Trump's call for the Federal Reserve to reduce interest rates to zero. Lower interest rates tend to support the price of the haven metal by making it more competitive with yield-bearing assets like bonds.

Write to Anna Isaac at anna.isaac@wsj.com


  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
  09-12-19 0617ET
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