Welcome to the home for real time coverage of European equity markets brought to you by Reuters stocks reporters and anchored today by Helen Reid. Reach her on Messenger to share your thoughts on market moves: helen.reid.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net RISING RATES: TECH WON THIS BATTLE, BUT CAN IT WIN THE WAR? (1535 GMT) Tech stocks have done well during trade war fears and have also clearly outperformed the market since fears of rising inflation and interest rates triggered the February correction. While their somewhat obese multiples made them an obvious target for "equity risk premium" readjustment in the light of "risk-free" bond yields rising, they have done remarkably well over the last three months. As you can see below, there's currently a handsome gap between the MSCI World and the specific Information and Technology index : That however doesn't convince Vincent Deluard from INTL FCStone, who lays out his doubts in a research note: Deluard also has another point to make: the valuation of tech companies is based on the promise of very speedy growth but if their current economic paradigm fades, there will be a case for their multiples to gradually align themselves with the ones applied to the rest of the market. According to Deluard, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Tesla, Oracle, and Nvidia would need to quadruple their revenues to $2.9 trillion for their market capitalisation to meet the S&P's average of 1.4 times sales. The analyst also points out to a chart by Gavekal Research which points out that cycle has its time, from the hype around Japanese banks in the 90s, to the dot-com bubble of 2000. Sic transit gloria mundi: http://bit.ly/28M5Lh5 (Julien Ponthus) ***** EUROPEAN STOCKS HIT FRESH SESSION HIGH AS DRAGHI SPEAKS (1418 GMT) Financials continue to drive European stocks higher, with both the STOXX 600 and Euro zone stocks up at session highs. It's likely that euro zone stocks are being supported by a fall in the euro as ECB President Draghi speaks. Here's a view from UBS on the ECB removing its easing bias. "While we had expected that the hawks would push for the QE easing bias to be dropped (as they had done in the last meeting on 25 January), we did not expect this proposal to find a majority today. This gives today's ECB meeting a hawkish tilt," Reinhard Cluse, European chief economist at UBS, said in a note. Here's your European market snapshot: (Kit Rees) ***** EURO ZONE BANKS SHINE AS ECB DROPS BOND BUYS PLEDGE (1323 GMT) Expectations were growing for the ECB to drop its promise to increase bond purchases if needed and it did just that. Read this: Euro zone banks jumped at the prospect of monetary normalisation getting underway and rose as much as 0.7 percent after the announcement to reach a session high. It doesn't look like traders were taken by surprise and the broader market reaction is fairly limited. The STOXX trimmed some if its gains but stayed comfortably in positive territory. Here's our main story: ECB drops easing bias, taking baby step towards stimulus exit (Julien Ponthus) ***** GENDER-DIVERSITY INVESTING - PROGRESS, OPPORTUNITY, AND FURTHER TO GO Today is International Women's Day, and what an appropriate occasion to take a look at how changes in society with respect to the evolving role of women has impacted the investment world. BAML strategists cite a 2013-14 study by Andrea Turner Moffitt, Sylvia Ann Hewett and the Center for Talent Innovation which showed that 44 percent of U.S. women and 74 percent of women globally make decisions over the financial assets in their households, but 44 percent of U.S. women did not have a financial advisor - so this is a large but potentially untapped area source of wealth. But the implications go beyond women as investors. BAML found that gender-diverse companies have seen lower price and EPS risk and higher ROE. BAML also pointed out that the assets of U.S.-domiciled funds and ETFs which focus on women, diversity or equality have grown at an 81 percent annualised rate over the past three years to over $600 million. This is a similar finding to research carried out by UBS Wealth Management, whose analysts found that companies in which woman occupy at least 20 percent of leadership positions were more profitable across various metrics than less gender-diverse peers. "We view gender diversity as a proxy for a well-run company," Alexander Stiehler, analyst at UBS WM, said in a note. But there is still a way to go - BAML found that women make up only 22 percent of S&P 500 boards (though this has been improving over the past decade). Below is how UBS' gender-focused portfolio has performed compared with the broader equity market. (Kit Rees) ***** MARKETS CAN REBOUND IN THIS "TRANSITION PHASE", HSBC RECKONS (1118 GMT) Yes "Goldilocks" is over but that doesn't mean that it's all gloom and doom ahead, HSBC reckons in a multi asset strategy note this morning. "We have entered a transition phase for markets but not yet a new regime", its analysts say, looking at what lies ahead after the February correction. "We expect a rebound in global equities post the correction phase", the bank says, noting however that an increase in volatility and correlations means "there will be less opportunity for diversification and also lower risk-adjusted returns going forward." HSBC analysts believe global synchronised growth still has enough fuel in its engine to support equity markets for the time being even if they have a long list of things that could go wrong. To name a few, a spike in inflation triggering a sudden tightening of monetary policy, Brexit negotiations derailing, trade wars or tensions with Russia escalating. Here are HSBC's calls on fixed income and equities: (Julien Ponthus) ***** LATE ON YOUR ECB HOMEWORK? HERE'S ING'S 'ANGRY BIRDS' CHEAT SHEET (1005 GMT) While there's absolutely no expectations for an ECB decision on interest rates today, focus is zoomed on Quantitative Easing and every word said on that matter will be thoroughly dissected. "The language that is speculated to be targeted on Thursday is the reference to the central bank's readiness to increase the asset purchase program in size or duration if the outlook becomes less favourable", said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda. "While this was always a pointless line, the ECB has stuck by it and the removal of it is a small acknowledgement that less dovish language in warranted", he added. Monetary normalisation is a complicated exercise for the ECB, notes CMC's Michael Hewson, who points out that "the data isn't moving its way. Inflation is falling back, with headline CPI at a one year low, the euro is rising and some of the recent data has been slightly softer of late, and that’s before we even start to look at the current backdrop of Italian politics." To help you read through the ECB's statement (1245 GMT) and presser (1330 GMT), which sometimes feels like kremlinology, here's ING's Angry Bird Dashboard. The cheat sheet's name 'Angry Birds' is a reference to the computer game and evokes the doves and the hawks who live in 'peaceful coexistence' at the ECB's governing council. Here's an angry bird: (Julien Ponthus) ***** OPENING SNAPSHOT: STOXX INCHES UP (0819 GMT) European shares have opened slightly higher today, supported by some well-received earning updates including from French utility Engie which surprised with a dividend increase and a rally in Spanish builder ACS and Italian motorway company Atlantia after they reportedly agreed on an Abertis break-up deal, ending a takeover battle. Among top gainers were Britvic and Saab , both supported by upbeat broker notes, while a disappointing update hit Boskalis. (Danilo Masoni) ***** WHAT'S ON THE RADAR AHEAD OF THE OPEN (0758 GMT) European shares are set to rise after the U.S. administration cooled investors’ trade war fears with more conciliatory talk of potential carve-outs from the new tariff regime. Investors in Europe await the ECB meeting, which Societe Generale analysts said was expected not to yield any significant changes in tone, with the central bank taking care not to rock the boat amid jittery markets. Results continue to roll in from European corporates including Akzo Nobel, Merck, Uniper, JCDecaux, Hugo Boss and Aviva. Overall European corporates’ profit growth has so far outpaced that of U.S. firms. Hugo Boss is indicated down up to 5 percent in pre-market indications with traders pointing to disappointing guidance. Countrywide is seen losing 10 percent or more, after a profit warning. M&A developments could also create heat today: Renault shares are indicated down as much as 4 percent after France said it was not prepared to sell its stake to Nissan. (Helen Reid) ***** EARLY MORNING EUROPEAN HEADLINES ROUND UP (0742 GMT) Here are your top market-moving headlines this morning: Chinese competition weighs on Merck KGaA's 2018 outlook Akzo Nobel expects headwinds from material costs in 2018 EXCLUSIVE-Five banks open up trillion dollar gold club Uniper profit drops on weaker gas optimisation business Vivendi CEO not worried about Elliott's move on Telecom Italia - paper Roche names Pao head of drugs research and early development Linde sees slight gain in earnings on industrial gases Julius Baer sets up venture with Siam Commercial Bank to tap Thai wealth Axel Springer guides for faster growth in core profits Hugo Boss upbeat for 2018 on brand shift to win young customers Nissan says Renault-Nissan-M'bishi has no plans to change cross-shareholding ratio Retailer Casino eyes further profit growth in 2018 France's JCDecaux sees slowing growth in first quarter Prudential's Malaysia unit in stake sale talks with pension fund as regulatory Univision Communications CEO to retire at year end British estate agent Countrywide posts 22.5 pct drop in FY core earnings UK's G4S posts revenue slightly below expectations but outlook bright French utility Engie surprises with 2018 dividend increase Aviva plans 500 mln stg share buyback, 2017 profit up 2 pct (Danilo Masoni) ***** EUROPEAN STOCK FUTURES EDGE UP (0721 GMT) European stock index futures have opened up slightly (+0.2-0.4%), as trade war fears appeared to ease and the immediate focus shifted to the ECB's policy meeting later today. (Danilo Masoni) ***** RESULTS ROLL IN FROM AKZO NOBEL, MERCK, UNIPER (0650 GMT) Some more earnings to keep an eye on today. Paints maker Akzo Nobel plans to increase prices and cut costs as it expects rising raw material costs to continue to weigh in 2018. Merck points to intense competition from China for its liquid crystals used in flat screens as a dampener for its earnings, which slipped 6.5 percent as a stronger euro also weighed. And German utility Uniper, in which Fortum has agreed to buy a 46.65 percent stake, reported an 18 percent decline in full-year profit due to weaker performance from its gas optimisation business. And in the latest overnight development after Reuters' report yesterday that Nissan was in talks to buy the French government's stake in Renault, the Japanese car company said the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance had no plans to change cross-shareholding ratios of its member companies. (Helen Reid) ***** "NOT MUCH NEW INFORMATION" EXPECTED FROM ECB (0632 GMT) Societe Generale strategists don't see today's ECB meeting as likely to deliver any huge revelations, partly due to the central bank stepping on eggshells in a more jittery market. "The recent communication wobbles have largely been resolved, with the focus firmly on keeping expectations of a first rate hike at bay," SocGen writes in a note. "Given heightened market sensitivity, it is likely too early for the ECB to contemplate any changes in the APP guidance." They reckon the new forecasts from the central bank could point to slightly higher growth and inflation this year, but core inflation should remain unchanged. "As before, we believe the ECB is moving dangerously slowly with its normalisation process, not only running the risk of missing the window offered by the strong economic conditions but also of undermining the role of monetary policy in future macroeconomic stabilisation efforts," strategists warn. (Helen Reid) ***** MORNING CALL: TRADE FEARS FADE, EUROPEAN INVESTORS AWAIT ECB (0613 GMT) European shares are set for a calmer trading day today as fears about a global trade war fade, with the U.S. administration giving signs the tariffs could include carve-outs for key partners. In Europe all eyes will be on the ECB today as investors hope to glean further hints from Mario Draghi about what will happen after September this year when the current bond-buying programme is expected to come to an end. The FTSE is called to open flat at 7,158 points, the DAX is seen opening 23 points higher at 12,268 points, and the CAC 40 is expected to gain 16 points to 5,204 points. (Helen Reid) *****

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