European Stocks Drift Lower Ahead of ECB Rates Meeting

LONDON ( The Deal) -- European stock indices drifted lower on Thursday while Asian stocks ended the day mixed as European Central Bank policy makers prepared to meet to set rates.

Most economists expect action from the ECB Thursday to boost lackluster eurozone growth and combat the risk of a prolonged period of deflation. But with benchmark rates already at 0.25% policy makers will have to dig deep into their toolbox for monetary solutions to supplement what is expected to be a small cut in that key rate. The ECB will announce its rate decision at 1.45 p.m. local time, which is 7:45 a.m. EDT.

In London the FTSE 100 was down 0.28% at 6,799.49. In Frankfurt the DAX slipped 0.15% to 9,991.57 and in Paris the CAC 40 little changed at 4,501.55.

Medical devices maker Smith & Nephew was the lead gainer on the FTSE 100 on news that it has attracted a second U.S. suitor, Medtronic (MDT), of Minneapolis, after it reportedly spurned an offer from Stryker (SYK) last month. Medtronic is said to be considering making a bid and Britain's Takeover Panel may well tell the U.S. group to show its hand, after a 12% rise in Smith & Nephew's American depositary shares on Wednesday followed by the rise Thursday in London.

Logistics company Wincanton surged more than 9% after it posted an above-expected 20% increase in full-year underlying pretax profit to 25.6 million pounds ($42.9 million). The company said it's not paying a dividend so it can focus on cutting debt, which it managed to slash by 40% from a year earlier.

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