- The pan-European Stoxx 600 eked out a small gain by the close, but sectors and major bourses pointed in opposite directions.
- The U.S. consumer price index for May is set to be released Thursday. Economists are expecting the CPI to rise 4.7% from a year earlier.
- The World Bank upgraded its growth forecast on Tuesday with the global economy now expected to grow 5.6% in 2021.
LONDON — European stocks struggled for direction on Wednesday as investors braced for the next reading of U.S. inflation due Thursday.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 eked out a small gain by the close, but sectors and major bourses pointed in opposite directions. Health care stocks were the top performers, climbing 1.9%, while the basic resources sector fell 1.8%.
The muted session for European markets reflects cautious sentiment elsewhere ahead of the latest inflation data from the U.S., which could prompt the Federal Reserve to consider tapering asset purchases sooner rather than later.
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Read more: The Fed is in early stages of a campaign to prepare markets for tapering its asset purchases
The consumer price index for May is set to be released Thursday. Economists are expecting the CPI to rise 4.7% from a year earlier, according to Dow Jones. In April, the CPI increased 4.2% on an annual basis, the fastest rise since 2008.
The Fed has previously contended that higher price pressures are just temporary as the economy continues to rebound from the pandemic-induced recession.
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On Wall Street, stocks were marginally higher, with the S&P 500 just below its all-time high as markets continued to trade in a tight range.
Meanwhile, shares in Asia-Pacific closed mostly lower Wednesday as investors reacted to the release of Chinese inflation data.
China's producer price index for May jumped 9% from a year earlier, against expectations in a Reuters poll for a 8.5% increase. The country's consumer price index in May rose 1.3% from a year earlier, lower than an expected 1.6% rise in a Reuters poll.
In other news, the World Bank upgraded its growth forecast on Tuesday with the global economy now expected to grow 5.6% in 2021. That compared against an earlier forecast in January for a 4% global economic expansion in 2021.
Still, the organization warned in a Tuesday press release that global output will be about 2% below pre-pandemic projections by the end of this year in spite of the recovery.
On the data front, German adjusted trade figures missed forecasts on Wednesday, with imports for April coming in at -1.7% month-on-month vs -1.1% expected by economists, while the seasonal adjusted trade balance was 15.9 billion euros ($19.4 billion) versus a forecast of 16.3 billion euros.
In terms of individual share price movement, mall operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield jumped more than 5.7% toward the top of the Stoxx 600 as traders continued to cheer the reopening of malls around the world after lengthy Covid-19 restrictions.
Sweden's Sinch jumped 5.6% after announcing the $1.3 billion acquisition of mobile messaging platform MessageMedia.
At the opposite end of the European blue chip index, Austrian steel and technology company Voestalpine fell 3.5% after its fiscal full-year earnings report.
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- CNBC's Ryan Browne contributed to this report.