By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch
Aviva shares fall after earnings report
U.K. blue-chip stocks wobbled Thursday as investors sifted through a round of corporate updates while awaiting more details about potential U.S. tariffs on steel imports and an update on monetary policy from the European Central Bank.
How markets are moving
The FTSE 100 index was down 0.1% at 7,150.78 and was swaying between small gains and losses. Mining and oil shares were losing the most while the telecom group topped advancers. On Wednesday, the index rose 0.2% to mark a third consecutive win.
The pound bought $1.3898, slightly lower than $1.3903 late Wednesday in New York.
What's driving markets
U.K. and European equity markets appeared to be in wait-and-see mode with key updates in store for global markets. U.S. President Trump was reportedly expected on Thursday to sign an order to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports into the U.S. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has indicated Canada and Mexico may exempt if the countries strike a new NAFTA agreement. Trump is expected to make an announcement at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, according to media reports .
Analysts have said a global trade war could weigh on economic growth world-wide.
The European Union has said it's preparing its own tariffs if Trump moves ahead with the levies. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will likely be asked Thursday about tariffs and its impact on the eurozone at his press conference after the release of the central bank's latest monetary policy decision.
The ECB policy decision is due at 12:45 p.m. London time, or 7:45 a.m. Eastern Time. Draghi's news conference is set for 1:30 p.m. London time. The ECB is widely expected to keep rates and its key stimulus program on hold, but the big question is if policy makers will change their forward guidance.
What strategists are saying
"It is still hard to avoid the sense that markets are underestimating the prospect that this could all blow up into one big mess, particularly since the departure of Mr. Cohn would appear to suggest that he was losing the argument on trade policy, and that steel and aluminum tariffs are merely the warm up act for additional policy measures," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, in a note.
"This morning's Chinese trade data are only likely to reinforce the U.S. administration's perception of unfair trade as Chinese exports were seen to show a rise [of] 44.5% in February, the best performance in over two years," he said.
G4S PLC fell 4.2%, with shares retreating from earlier gains made after the security and consulting services company declared a higher final dividend for the year and posted a rise in yearly pretax profit to GBP386 million ($536 million).
Aviva PLC declined 1.6% even as the insurer said profit in 2017 rose , and that it expects to return GBP500 million ($694.3 million) in excess cash to shareholders this year.
"Disappointments are few and far between, although committed bears may point to a slightly softer General Insurance operating profit, an uptick in operating expenses and a 'disappointing' contribution from Canada," wrote Richard Hunter, Interactive Investor's head of markets in a note.
GKN PLC was up 0.4% as the aerospace-and-automotive parts supplier said it expects its "Project Boost" program to deliver GBP153 million ($212.5 million) of annual savings within the Driveline business from 2020.
Off the FTSE 100, Countrywide PLC plunged 20% after the estate agent scrapped its dividend , citing the booking of a huge impairment charge and a slide in earnings as reason for the move.