European stocks edged lower Thursday as investors focused on a key interest rate and inflation update later in the session from the Bank of England and pulled back from multi-year highs despite improving economic signals.
The region-wide Stoxx Europe 600 Index was marked 0.26% lower at 395.42 in the opening hour of trading but remains, as it has for much of the week, within touching distance of is 52-week high. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped a modest 0.1%, but saw solid gains for oil majors and basic resource stocks after an overnight rally in global commodity prices.
Crude prices were the focus for international trading overnight and again in European hours after a bigger-than-expected 5.2 million barrel fall in U.S. oil supplies was reported yesterday by the Energy Information Administration and renewed support for an extension of OPEC production cuts lifted benchmark levels by the most since December.
WTI futures for June delivery were marked 1.1% higher at $47.87 per barrel by 09:15 BST while Brent contracts for the same month, the global benchmark, were seen 1% higher at $50.76 per barrel.
Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS.A - Get Report) gained 1.17% in London while Norway's Statoil ASA (STO) added 1.68% in Oslo in the first hour of trading. BP plc (BP - Get Report) , however, was marked 1% lower at 455.5 pence each as it traded without the rights to its regular quarterly dividend.
Germany's DAX was little-changed from its Wednesday close while France's CAC-40 edge modestly higher thanks to a 2.5% gain for Renault SA .
The BoE will publish its latest Quarterly Inflation Report Thursday immediately following its regular decision on interest rates while Germany's statistics office, Destatis, will publish its initial estimate of first quarter GDP for the region's largest economy on Friday.
The pound was marked marginally weaker against the U.S. dollar at 1.2933, but has remained within touching distance of a September 2016 high amid speculation that the central bank will begin signalling what will be its first interest rate rise in nearly a decade.
However, Governor Mark Carney and his colleagues face the testing conditions of a slowing economy, flat wages and faster inflation, which has breached the Bank's 2% target for much of the year.
The euro was also under renewed pressure in early trading, falling to 1.0884 against the dollar, following European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's appearance in front of Dutch lawmakers Wednesday in which he said it was "too early to declare success" with respect to the Bank's mandate of delivering price stability of an inflation rate that sits 'just below 2%'.
The tone suggests Draghi will continue to prefer loose monetary policy, including negative interest rates and quantitative easing, for much of the remainder of the year.
However, the European Commission raised its GDP forecast for the currency area by 0.1 percentage points to 1.7% after a faster-than-expected first quarter growth estimate from Eurostat.
Stocks in Asia notched solid overnight gains even as investors navigated the biggest single-day rise in global crude prices in more than 5 months Wednesday in U.S. trading
The region-wide MSCI Asia ex-Japan index added 0.3% while Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.25%, taking the benchmark past the 20,000 point mark into the close.
U.S. stocks are likely to take their direction from the European session with early futures prices suggesting each of the major benchmark will open little-changed from their closing levels yesterday, which saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average slip 0.16% on the back of a weak session for Disney Corp. and the S&P 500 rise 0.14%.