By Georgi Kantchev
U.S. stocks were set to open higher Thursday amid signs that U.S. President Donald Trump's tariff plans might be softened, with exemptions for key partners.
Futures pointed to a 0.3% opening gain for the S&P 500. In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 was up 0.2% in afternoon trading, while Asian markets gained across the board.
The European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged Thursday but dropped a pledge to accelerate its giant bond purchases if the economy deteriorates. That step was expected by some analysts who see it as a further step toward monetary policy normalization.
The change is "further indication that QE [quantitative easing] is coming to an end this year," Claus Vistesen, chief Eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note.
The euro pared earlier losses against the dollar to trade broadly flat $1.2412. ECB President Mario Draghi will hold a press conference at 8:30 a.m. EST.
Global stock prices have been under pressure this week as investors tried to gauge the impact from U.S. protectionist rhetoric and after Mr. Trump's economic adviser Gary Cohn resigned from the White House.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that the plan to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum--which Mr. Trump is expected to sign this week--would exempt Canada and Mexico at the outset. The two countries would remain free of the tariffs if they successfully concluded negotiations rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"Let's be very clear. We're not looking to get into trade wars," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
However, investors say volatility, which spiked in February on concerns about rising inflation, will remain elevated as details about the trade plan continue to trickle out.
"We're generally in a more volatile environment and the market will be sensitive to any headlines," said Randy Warren, chief investment officer of Philadelphia-based Warren Financial.
The U.S. trade moves come as the global economy is experiencing a rare spurt of synchronized growth. That has underpinned gains in stock markets last year and in the beginning of 2018.
"The underlying thesis of a strong economy and solid earnings is still rock solid," Mr. Warren said. "The market doesn't like trade wars or anything that could change that thesis."
The 10-year Treasury yield was broadly unchanged at 2.885%. Yields rise as prices fall.
Ese Erheriene contributed to this article.
Write to Georgi Kantchev at [email protected]