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European stocks hold steady in quiet trade

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

European stock markets and the euro steadied on Thursday as traders reacted to a drop in eurozone industrial production and awaited a key meeting on Syria.

Britain's government meanwhile officially launched plans to privatise more than half of Royal Mail, saying an initial sale of shares in the state-run postal service would occur within weeks.

London's benchmark FTSE 100 index dipped 0.08 percent to stand at 6,593.46 points in afternoon deals.

Frankfurt's DAX 30 was up 0.05 percent at 8,499.77 points and the CAC 40 in Paris fell 0.23 percent to 4,109.62.

"The only noteworthy release... was the eurozone industrial production figure which showed activity falling 2.1 percent in July, well below expectations of minus 0.1 percent," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari traders.

"The recent recovery in the eurozone meant people paid little attention to this release as it's probably just a one-off. If we continue to see more poor data out of the region, people will start to sit up and take notice more," he added.

Meanwhile in eurozone member Italy, borrowing costs mostly rose in an auction of medium and long-term bonds that raised 7.5 billion euros ($10.0 billion) amid high tensions over the political fate of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Italian Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni admitted on Wednesday that Italy continues "to pay the price of political uncertainty".

Milan's MIB shares index was down 0.14 percent at 17,537.46 points in afternoon deals.

In foreign exchange trade, the European single currency dipped to $1.3279 compared with $1.3294 late in New York overnight. The dollar dropped to 99.45 yen from 99.87 yen.

The price of gold edged lower to $1,340.25 an ounce on the London Bullion Market, from $1,340.78 Wednesday.

In London, the privatisation of Royal Mail was expected to be the biggest by a British government since former prime minister Margaret Thatcher -- who died this year -- sold off former state-owned companies British Gas and British Telecom to the public in the 1980s.

Media reports say the part-sale of Royal Mail could be worth up to £3.0 billion ($4.74 billion, 3.57 billion euros). An initial offer price per share was expected shortly, traders said.

Investors also kept a keen eye on developments in the Middle East, as the United States and Russia discussed a plan to remove Syria's chemical weapons.

Investors are hoping Washington and Moscow will reach a deal that will see Syria hand over its chemical weapons and avert an attack by American forces.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet his Russian counterpart in Geneva as the two sides seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis, sparked by the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons on its own civilians.

Ahead of the meeting, Washington called Thursday on the Syrian regime to quickly declare the scope and size of its chemical weapons stockpile.

US stocks were also little-changed in opening trade Thursday as investors took pause after the S&P 500 racked up seven straight days of gains.

Five minutes into trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.07 percent at 15,337.20.

The broad-market S&P 500 slipped 0.06 percent to 1,688.10, while the tech-rich Nasdaq dipped to 3,723.88.

Asian stock markets closed mostly higher on Thursday as investors took a breather after a rally at the start of the week, but Tokyo slipped on profit-taking and a strong yen, traders said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130912/european-stocks-hold-steady-quiet-trade