European stocks little changed ahead of key data

European stocks held steady on Tuesday as traders awaited key data due this week, while Royal Bank of Scotland shares slid on speculation over the size of Libor fines it was set to face.

Dealers also sat tight as the US Federal Reserve prepared to begin a regular monetary policy meeting on Tuesday.

London's FTSE 100 index of top companies edged up 0.18 percent to 6,305.99 points in afternoon deals, Frankfurt's DAX 30 dropped 0.12 percent to 7,823.39 points and in Paris the CAC 40 shed 0.27 percent to 3,770.87 points.

"Over the next few days the markets will receive GDP data from the US, results from a key Italian 10-year bond auction as well as the market-moving US non-farm jobs data on Friday," noted Spreadex trader Shavaz Dhalla.

"In addition, with many markets trading at such high levels the potential for a sharp sell-off in the face of bad news should not be underestimated."

European equities and the euro have rallied in recent days, with Frankfurt hitting a five-year high and the euro at 11-month peaks versus the dollar after positive German data and as banks repay early their emergency ECB loans.

In foreign exchange trading on Tuesday, the European single currency eased to $1.3448 from $1.3454 late in New York on Monday. On the London Bullion Market, gold prices increased to $1,660.50 an ounce from $1,656.50.

"The Fed statement tomorrow is likely to be the most eagerly anticipated news of the week," said Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at online brokerage Interactive Investor.

"At their last meeting they were clearly considering when to terminate QE3 (stimulus), so the market will be looking for any signs of this and, as with most Fed statements, trying to read between the lines."

US stocks also treaded in place in the opening minutes of trade Tuesday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up a slight 0.08 percent, the S&P 500 virtually unchanged and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index down 0.25 percent.

On the corporate front, shares in Royal Bank of Scotland plunged 6.23 percent to 344.90 pence on a report that it could face a £500-million ($786-million, 585-million-euro) fine from British and US authorities for its role in the Libor rate-rigging affair.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people briefed on negotiations, added that US authorities were pushing for a settlement of allegations that would result also in an RBS division pleading guilty to criminal charges.

The Libor rate is used as a benchmark for global financial contracts worth about $300 trillion, and revelations that it had been rigged have harmed the reputation of the City of London financial centre. British bank Barclays and Swiss lender UBS have already been hit with large fines.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, shares in Anglo American rose 2.62 percent to 1,921.5 pence despite the miner announcing a write-off totalling $4.0 billion (3.0 billion euros) caused by delays at its Minas-Rio iron-ore mining project in Brazil that have sent costs soaring.

"Anglo American's $4.0-billion write down on Minas Rio appears in line with expectations," analysts at Investec financial group said.

The mining giant, which has been hit in recent months by slumping platinum output owing to deadly strike action by workers in South Africa, said that it would "record an impairment charge of $4.0 billion" in its 2012 earnings.

Asian stock markets mostly closed higher on Tuesday, with Tokyo climbing 0.39 percent and Sydney jumping 1.11 percent as dealers in Australia returned from a long weekend break.

Despite the gains, traders said there was a certain amount of caution as the corporate earning season begins this week in Japan.

Friday sees the release of Chinese manufacturing data, which is likely to add to recent evidence that the world's number two economy has shaken off a malaise that weighed on growth for most of last year, they added.

burs-bcp/arp/rl

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