By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch)--European stock markets ended a choppy session slightly higher on Wednesday, as investors stayed on the sidelines ahead of a U.S. holiday, while also digesting news that euro-zone finance ministers failed to agree on conditions for further aid for Greece.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index closed 0.2% higher at 270.11, after swinging between small gains and losses.
"I'm surprised by the lack of reaction over Greece. It's part of the two big issues at the moment--the euro zone and the fiscal cliff," said Richard Perry, chief market strategist at Central Markets in London.
An impending U.S. holiday might already be having some impact on investors in London and on the Continent.
"It's Thanksgiving tomorrow and investors are winding down a little ahead of that. The fiscal cliff seems to have dominated thoughts recently and markets rallied after we had good news on that over the weekend," he said.
"But markets have been fairly quiet since that reaction and we're in wait-and-see mode ahead of Thanksgiving and until [President Barack] Obama and Congress resume talks next week."
U.S. markets are closed Thursday and will see an abbreviated session on Friday.
U.S. stocks traded mostly higher on Wall Street, on the back of data showing initial jobless claims dropped by 41,000 last week to 410,000. and
In London, shares of Johnson Matthey PLC dropped 5.8%, pulling back after the chemicals firm posted a 6% decline in first-half pretax profit on the back of lower metals prices. The company also flagged expectations for its second-half performance, saying it should be similar to that of the first half.
Shares of Xstrata PLC rose 1.1% and those of Glencore International PLC picked up 0.7%, as European Union regulators moved closer to approving a merger between the two companies.
And in Frankfurt, shares of Siemens AG (SI) lost 1.3%, after Deutsche Bank cut its rating on the industrial conglomerate to sell from hold, citing portfolio issues and valuation reasons.
"Siemens has attractive world-class assets but also has businesses that it would probably not buy today if it did not already own them," Deutsche Bank's analysts said.
No deal on Greece
For investors, Greece was squarely back in the European spotlight.
Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker said early Wednesday morning that the region's finance ministers didn't complete an agreement that would clear the way for bailout funds for the country. A disagreement with the International Monetary Fund over how to put Greece's debt load on a sustainable path remains a sticking point.
Instead, the ministers will resume talks Nov. 26 to allow time for "further technical work on some elements of this package," Juncker said, adding that the Eurogroup made progress in "identifying a consistent package of credible initiatives."
Analysts at Deutsche Bank took note of the state of play regarding Greece, especially its ratio of debt to gross domestic product.
The document prepared for the meeting "suggests that Greece's debt cannot be cut to 120% of GDP by 2020 (the level deemed sustainable by the IMF) without haircuts on Greek loans held by the official sector. We suspect whether Greece needs additional debt haircut was probably one of the key sticking point in the negotiations," they wrote in a note.
And for a second day in a row, France's sovereign-credit rating came in for attention.
Fitch Ratings said it would review its rating for the country during 2013. Late Monday, Moody's Investors Services stripped what had been a triple-A rating for France, following a downgrade by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services in January.
In the U.K., minutes from the Bank of England's latest policy-setting meeting showed one member voted in favor of increasing the central bank's asset-purchase program by 25 billion pounds ($596.2 billion).
Among Wednesday's notable movers, shares of Veolia Environnement SA (VE) rose 1.3% in Paris, gaining as the environmental-services firm closed on the sale of its U.S. solid-waste operations for $1.91 billion.
The CAC 40 index rose 0.4% to 3,477.36.
In London, the FTSE 100 index inched 0.1% higher to 5,752.03, with oil firms tracking oil prices higher. Shares of BG Group PLC picked up 2.8% and Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB) added 0.5%.
Frankfurt's DAX 30 index also moved narrowly higher, up 0.2% at 7,184.71.
Shares of K+S AG lost 3.1%, after J.P. Morgan Cazenove lowered its rating on the potash maker to underweight from neutral.
Outside the main indexes, shares of Pronova Biopharma ASA jumped 4.6%, after it received a takeover offer valued at 3.76 billion Norwegian kroner ($653.6 million) from German chemicals giant BASF SE . Shares of BASF closed marginally lower. .
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