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European Shares Seen Little Changed Before ECB Cash Infusion

European shares are seen opening flat to slightly higher on Wednesday, with banks in focus ahead of a second tranche of liquidity infusion by the European Central Bank tonight. A similar operation in December saw the central bank handing out nearly 500 billion euros to banks.

Asian shares notched solid gains as better-than-expected industrial production data from Japan and South Korea boosted the region's growth prospects. Meanwhile, the Indian economy grew at its slowest pace in more than two years in the third-quarter, fueling expectations for a rate cut when the Reserve Bank of India reviews its monetary policy on March 15.

China's Shanghai Composite is edging down 0.7 percent ahead of manufacturing data for February, due to be released tomorrow.

Commodities such as copper and crude are edging higher and the euro remains firm versus the euro before the ECB begins its long-term refinancing operation. Investors also eye U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's semi-annual testimony on monetary policy before the House Financial Services Committee later in the day.

In economic releases, confidence among British consumers held steady at the highest level since June 2011, as households' assessment of the economy's prospects over the next 12 months improved notably, a survey by research group GfK NOP showed. The consumer confidence index remained unchanged at -29 in February, the highest reading since June after a four-point improvement in January.

In corporate news, French construction-to-broadcast conglomerate Bouygues pledged to cut costs as it expects sales to fall by 1 percent in 2012, dragged down by its mobile-phone business.

Drug maker Ipsen posted 2011 consolidated net profit attributable to shareholders of the company of 0.4 million euros versus 95.3 million euros last year.

Italian car maker Fiat SpA , which controls Chrysler Group LLC, is looking at a number of parties for possible alliances, its chief executive said.

German builder Hochtief reported 2011 pre-tax loss of 127 million euros versus pre-tax profit of 756.6 million euros a year ago.

Swiss company Holcim said it expects demand for building material to rise in emerging markets in Latin America and Asia, as well as in Russia and Azerbaijan in 2012.

Standard Chartered Plc reported profit attributable to parent company shareholders of $4.85 billion for 2011, higher than $4.33 billion reported a year ago.

European shares edged higher on Tuesday as investors braced for the second round of cheap financing into Europe's banks scheduled for Wednesday.

The Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone bluechip stocks rose 0.3 percent and the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, edged up 0.1 percent. Around Europe, the German DAX rose 0.6 percent, France's CAC 40 added 0.4 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 advanced 0.2 percent, but Switzerland's SMI dropped 0.3 percent.

U.S. stocks posted modest gains overnight, as strong consumer confidence data overshadowed disappointing reports on durable goods orders and home prices. The Dow rose 0.2 percent, closing above 13,000 for the first time since May of 2008, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 0.7 percent and the S&P 500 added 0.3 percent.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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