European stocks muted after hot U.S. inflation data

LONDON — European stocks inched lower on Thursday as global markets faltered following the latest U.S. inflation reading showing consumer prices rose once again in December.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 slipped 0.1% below the flatline in early trade, with health care stocks shedding 0.5% while the tech sector climbed 1%.

In terms of individual share price movement, French software developer Sopra Steria climbed more than 5% after raising its 2021 guidance and appointing a new CEO.

At the bottom of the European blue chip index, Britain’s Countryside Properties plunged more than 16% after announcing that its CEO will step down with immediate effect, and revealing that first-quarter trading in the new financial year has been below the board’s expectations.

Global markets are digesting the latest red-hot inflation reading from the U.S. on Wednesday which showed the December reading for the consumer price index, a gauge of prices across a broad spectrum of goods, increased 7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On a monthly basis, CPI increased 0.5%. Economists expected the consumer price index to rise 0.4% in December, and 7% on a year-over-year basis, according to Dow Jones. 

Some economists think inflation could be showing signs of peaking, so the report will be looked at closely for the longer-term trend.

Though CPI is not the Federal Reserve’s primary inflation gauge, policymakers are watching a variety of measures as they embark on the first stages of tightening the most accommodative policy measures in the central bank’s history.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told Senate lawmakers Tuesday that he expects interest rate increases this year along with the end of the monthly bond-buying program in March and a reduction in asset holdings. Powell said the moves likely will be needed to control inflation at a time when the economy has recovered substantially from the pandemic shock.

The December producer price index, another measure of inflation, is set to come out on Thursday.

Big banks in the U.S. are also in focus with a number kicking off the fourth-quarter earnings season on Friday. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are slated to release quarterly results before the U.S. trading session starts.

In Europe, earnings on Wednesday came from Geberit while Tesco, Marks & Spencer and ASOS released trading statements.

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— CNBC’s Jeff Cox contributed to this market report.

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