European stocks slightly slower ahead of US-China deal signing

European stocks inched lower on Wednesday as investors await the signing of the so-called “phase one” trade deal between the U.S. and China, with optimism slightly dented by comments from the U.S. Treasury.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 slid 0.2% in early trade, with autos falling 0.9% to lead losses white health care stocks bucked the trend to add 0.2%.

A Chinese delegation is in Washington to ink the long-awaited interim agreement, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday that the U.S. would maintain tariffs on Chinese goods until the completion of phase two.

Mnuchin also claimed that documents due to be released later on Wednesday will show that the “phase one” deal is fully enforceable and includes a vow from Beijing to refrain from currency manipulation.

Asian stocks slid into the red on Wednesday as investor sentiment dragged, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index falling almost 0.6% to lead the losses.

Back in Europe, the U.K., France and Germany have all formally accused Iran of violating its 2015 nuclear deal, a move which could pave the way for a re-imposition of U.N. sanctions lifted as part of the agreement.

Meanwhile U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected a request from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to hold a referendum on Scottish independence.

In corporate news, French consultancy giant Capgemini on Tuesday increased its bid to buy Altran Technologies, in an attempt to shut down a competing effort from U.S. activist fund Elliott Management to wrest control of the smaller rival.

German full year GDP (gross domestic product) growth figures for 2019 are due Wednesday morning, providing a vital insight into the state of Europe’s largest economy.

Meanwhile, a raft of U.K. inflation data is due, with Bank of England dove and regular Monetary Policy Committee dissenter Michael Saunders set to deliver a speech which could offer hints on whether the central bank will vote to cut interest rates later this month.

Stocks on the move

ASMI shares jumped 8% in early trade after the Dutch semiconductor company reported stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter sales and orders.

At the other end of the European benchmark, Chr Hansen dropped 7% after the Danish bioscience company lowered its guidance, citing unexpectedly persistent market challenges.