LONDON: European equities trod water on Wednesday (Sep 18) as investors stuck to the sidelines ahead of a crucial US interest rate decision, while keeping an eye on developments in the Middle East after the attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Expectations are running high for the US Federal Reserve to deliver the year's second interest rate cut later on Wednesday.
Frankfurt and Paris stocks closed marginally higher, but London lost ground and Wall Street was lower, as dealers awaited fresh rates guidance from Fed chief Jerome Powell after a key monetary policy meeting.
"European markets are mixed ... as investors wait patiently for the first major interest rate decision of the week and the most important," said OANDA analyst Craig Erlam.
"There seems to be little question that the Fed is going to cut interest rates again. The real question is whether they will stick to the mid-cycle adjustment message and refuse to explicitly signal more cuts or give up the fight and acknowledge that an easing cycle is underway."
"The Fed are tipped to lower rates, but given the US economy is broadly in good health, there is an argument the central bank should hold fire," said CMC Markets analyst David Madden.
Sterling meanwhile slid against the dollar on official data showing weaker UK inflation, but was not far from recent two-month highs struck on hopes that Britain may avoid a no-deal Brexit.
OIL MARKET 'ON TENTERHOOKS'
On the oil market, prices dipped further following news that Riyadh will get its two major installations back online earlier than expected, though analysts said there was nervousness on trading floors about oil security in the future.
The oil market had spiked on Monday in reaction to Saturday's attacks, then tumbled on Tuesday, but still remains at an elevated level according to analysts.
"Last weekend's serious attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia are continuing to keep the oil market on tenterhooks," said Commerzbank analysts in a note to clients.
OANDA's Erlam said that the prediction for getting the installations back up and running was a "much faster timeline than people were expecting."
However, "it hasn't removed the premium entirely... as the facilities are clearly vulnerable to attacks and tensions only look likely to be heightened in the aftermath of the weekend's events."
PVM analysts agreed.
"We should not be lulled into a false sense of security. Tensions in the region are still running high and the spectre of a further escalation is hanging over the oil market," they said.
With fears low for now of a military retaliation against Iran - accused of being behind the strikes - focus remains on the Fed with its post-meeting statement to be closely followed for clues about future plans.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has this week intervened to keep interest rates in line with the central bank's target, by pumping billions of dollars into financial markets.
Key figures around 1540 GMT:
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 per cent at 7,314.05 (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.1 per cent at 12,389.62 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.1 per cent at 5,620.65 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.2 per cent at 3,528.04
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 per cent at 21,960.71 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 per cent at 26,754.12 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 per cent at 2,985.66 (close)
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.1 per cent at US$63.83 per barrel
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.6 per cent at US$58.37 per barrel
Euro/dollar: DOWN at US$1.1064 from US$1.1073 at 2100 GMT
Dollar/yen: UP at 108.16 yen from 108.13 yen
Pound/dollar: DOWN at US$1.2483 from US$1.2500
Euro/pound: DOWN at 88.64 pence from 88.58 pence