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European stocks rise, boosted by sharp slowdown in U.K. inflation - European stock markets rose Wednesday, with the FTSE 100 index leading the way as cooling U.K. inflation adding to mounting optimism that central banks will start easing monetary policy relatively early next year. 

At 03:10 ET (08:10 GMT), the DAX index in Germany traded 0.2% higher, the CAC 40 in France traded up 0.3% and the FTSE 100 in the U.K. rose 1.5%.

U.K. inflation slowed sharply in November

Data released earlier Wednesday showed that U.K. annual consumer price inflation fell by much more than expected in November, to 3.9% from 4.6% in October, the lowest rate since September 2021.

The important core annual figure, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, also dropped by an unexpectedly large amount, falling to 5.1% from 5.7%.

The Bank of England kept its main interest rate unchanged at its meeting last week, but stated rates would remain high for "an extended period" as three policymakers continued to make the case for another rate increase.

This rapid progress in getting the inflation level back towards the bank’s 2% medium-term target can only increase market expectations that officials will agree to a rate cut in the first half of the new year to support the slowing economy.

German consumer sentiment shows improvement

German producer prices also fell more than expected, data showed earlier Wednesday, dropping 0.5% on the month in November, an annual decline of 7.9%.

This reduction in factory gate prices is expected to feed into improving German consumer sentiment with the start of the new year, according to a survey by the GfK institute Wednesday, admittedly from a very low level. 

The forward-looking consumer sentiment index rose to -25.1 points heading into January from a revised -27.6 the month before and above expectations for a -27.0 reading.

The European Central Bank also kept interest rates unchanged last week, and while President Christine Lagarde batted back any suggestion of a dovish pivot, eurozone CPI was confirmed on Tuesday at an annual rate of 2.4% in November, not far removed from the central bank’s 2% target.

This has investors looking for around several rate cuts from the ECB next year with the first moves potentially in the first quarter.

Petrofac soars on robust outlook

In corporate news, Petrofac (LON:PFC) stock soared higher after the oilfield services company described its outlook as robust, underpinned by strong orders. This included a second contract award under the six-project, $14 billion, deal with the Dutch electricity transmission system operator TenneT, worth around $1.4 billion. 

Crude steadies after U.S. inventories build

Oil prices steadied Wednesday as traders monitored the unstable geopolitical situation in the Red Sea while digesting an unexpected build in U.S. crude stockpiles.

By 03:10 ET, the U.S. crude futures traded 0.6% higher at $74.42 a barrel, while the Brent contract climbed 0.5% to $79.64 a barrel. 

Crude prices rebounded sharply from near five-month lows this week as oil companies and shipping operators announced plans to avoid the Suez Canal as a result of attacks by the Yemen-backed Houthi group on vessels in the Red Sea, potentially disrupting oil supplies to the important Asian market.

However, gains have steadied after data from the American Petroleum Institute showed that U.S. crude inventories unexpectedly rose by 900,000 barrels last week, defying expectations for a draw of 2.2 million barrels.

The official reading from the Energy Information Administration is due later Wednesday, but the API reading points to U.S. production continuing at record-high levels.

Additionally, gold futures rose 0.1% to $2,053.25/oz, while EUR/USD traded 0.1% lower at 1.0966.

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