PARIS, Jan 31 European stocks are set to fall on Thursday, retreating for the second day in a row after data showed stalled U.S. economic growth and Saipem's profit warning spurred worries about the earnings season. Late on Wednesday, Italy's market regulator Consob said it has banned short selling on the shares of the Italian oil service group, after they plunged 34 percent. At 0735 GMT, futures for Euro STOXX 50, for Germany's DAX and for France's CAC were down 0.2-0.3 percent. The retreat could be limited, however, after U.S. Federal Reserve pledged to keep its stimulus policy in place, saying the measures were needed to lower unemployment. On Wednesday, data showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter, hit by a slowdown in inventory investment and a drop in government spending. The euro zone's blue chip Euro STOXX 50 index has surged 3.7 percent so far this year, hitting a 18-month high on Wednesday morning, before surrendering gains. "This would be a nice pace over a quarter, but it looks too fast for a month, there's a danger of overheating," David Thebault, head of quantitative sales trading, at Global Equities said. "The market has been expecting sluggish growth and poor earnings, but the unexpected risk shaping up right now is the currency war, something that has not yet been priced in and something that could be very disruptive for equities. It's time to hedge the portfolios and to buy volatility," he said. Shares in pharmaceutical firms will be in the spotlight after AstraZeneca's new boss warned on Thursday the drugmaker faced a tough year in 2013, with sales expected to fall by a mid-to-high single digit percentage rate as patent expiries continue to erode business. Banking stocks will also be in focus, as Spain's biggest lender Santander said its 2012 net profit had more than halved, missing forecasts, hurt by writedowns on soured property assets at home while profit from key growth spots such as Latin America also fell. The Euro STOXX 50 has surged 33 percent since mid-2012, propelled in part by bold central bank action to revive economic growth and resolve the euro zone debt crisis. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- MARKET SNAPSHOT AT 0733 GMT LAST PCT CHG NET CHG S&P 500 1,501.96 -0.39 % -5.88 NIKKEI 11,138.66 0.22 % 24.71 MSCI ASIA EX-JP 556.01 -0.39 % -2.15 EUR/USD 1.3549 -0.13 % -0.0018 USD/JPY 90.85 -0.24 % -0.2200 10-YR US TSY YLD 1.981 -- -0.01 10-YR BUND YLD 1.682 -- -0.04 SPOT GOLD $1,677.00 0.02 % $0.30 US CRUDE $97.73 -0.21 % -0.21 > GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares off highs, Fed's stance supportive > Wall St ends lower after Fed statement > Nikkei rises to 33-month high, posts best January gain in 15 years > TREASURIES-Bonds firm, 10-year yield dips below 2 pct mark > FOREX-Euro near 14-mth high after Fed sticks to stimulus > Gold holds near 1-wk high on Fed; TOCOM hits record > LME copper near 2013 high on brightening global outlook > Brent rises above $115, hits highest since Oct on economic hopes COMPANY NEWS: SAIPEM Italy's market regulator Consob said on Wednesday it had decided to ban short selling in the shares of Italian oil service group Saipem starting on Thursday. BANCA MONTE DEI PASCHI DI SIENA Moody's said on Wednesday it had placed the Ba2 rating of Italy's No. 3 bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena on review for a possible downgrade to reflect uncertainty over the impact of a number of structured trades. ROYAL DUTCH SHELL Anglo-Dutch oil company Royal Dutch/Shell pledged an ambitious 4.7 percent increase in its quarterly dividend on Thursday and pushed ahead with plans to deliver more oil and gas despite an uncertain outlook for some parts of the world economy. Traders expect the stock to open lower as its fourth quarter profit of $5.582 billion fell short of the expected $6.2 billion. ERICSSON The company reported higher-than-expected fourth-quarter core profit and revenue growth on Thursday, raising hopes the world's top mobile telecom gear maker is beginning to shake off the global downturn. STMICROELECTRONICS The chipmaker posted a quarterly net loss and said it could need as much as $500 million to get out of its struggling mobile chip joint venture with Ericsson. UNIBAIL RODAMCO European real-estate group Unibail Rodamco named a new chief executive on Wednesday and said it would boost earnings power in 2013 on the back of new shopping-mall developments and tenants' sales. CREDIT AGRICOLE The French bank may soon warn investors that its fourth-quarter accounts will be hit by new provisions, French daily Le Figaro reported, without citing its sources. A spokeswoman for Credit Agricole declined to commment. ASTRAZENECA The company's new boss warned on Thursday the drugmaker faced a tough year in 2013, with sales expected to fall by a mid-to-high single digit percentage rate as patent expiries continue to erode business. GDF SUEZ France's highest administrative court annulled government-imposed limits on 2011 and 2012 gas price increases for consumers, paving the way for normalisation of a market distorted by years of state curbs. UNICREDIT Italy's UniCredit said it had raised around 890 million euros from the sale of a 9.1 percent stake in Poland's No. 2 bank Pekao on Wednesday, confirming what sources had told Reuters. SIEMENS After delivery delays for Siemens' ICE trains, the head of the high speed rail unit, Ansgar Brockmeyer is stepping aside, a Siemens spokesman said, confirming a report in Handelsblatt newspaper. Brockmeyer's replacement from Feb. 1 will be Juergen Wilder, currently strategy head at Infrastructure and Cities. Related news BAYER Bayer said it was "surprised" by the decision of France's health regulator ANSM to suspend sales of its acne pill Diane 35, which is also used as a contraceptive, adding that it would work to answer any questions the regulator might have. DAIMLER Daimler Trucks is looking to lay off as much as a tenth of its assembly line workforce in the United States due to a decline in orders for commercial vehicles. RENAULT A proposed pay freeze at French carmaker Renault's domestic operations for this year will also affect the group's managers but not necessarily its chief executive Carlos Ghosn, a senior executive said on Wednesday. NOVO NORDISK Danish group Novo Nordisk raised its sales and profit forecasts for 2013 when posting record full-year year results, aided by strong sales of modern insulins and diabetes drug Victoza.
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