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European markets close lower; UK insurer DirectLine soars 24% on takeover talk

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The U.K. and Switzerland are deepening the ties between their financial services sectors with a new post-Brexit deal.

This is CNBC's live blog covering European markets.

European stocks closed lower on Wednesday, as cautious global sentiment carried on from earlier this week.

The regional Stoxx 600 index provisionally ended 0.3% lower, with most sectors in negative territory. Tech stocks led the losses, down 1.4%, while autos rose almost 1%.

British insurance company DirectLine jumped around 24% higher after Belgium's Ageas confirmed it was considering an offer for the company valued at £3.095 billion ($3.91 billion). The offer represents a premium of 42.8% on the closing price of Tuesday, the company said.

Shares of Vodafone were fractionally lower after the company confirmed advanced talks with Swisscom over the sale of its Italian business for 8 billion euros ($8.7 billion) in cash, as Swisscom shares fell over 1%.

Elsewhere, U.S. stocks ticked lower as investors looked ahead to a key inflation report — the personal consumption expenditures reading for January — on Thursday. It is the Federal Reserve's preferred measure of inflation.

Asia-Pacific stock markets were mostly lower overnight as New Zealand's central bank kept its interest rate steady, while Hong Kong's property index rallied after the city's budget announcement.

Europe markets close lower

European markets closed lower on Wednesday, with major bourses mixed and most sectors in negative territory.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 provisionally ended down around 0.3% as tech stocks led the losses.

— Sam Meredith

U.S. stocks open lower

U.S. stocks opened lower Wednesday as investors looked ahead to a key inflation report expected later this week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.5% in early deals, while the S&P 500 dipped 0.3%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq was also 0.6% lower.

— Karen Gilchrist

Don’t expect a major market reversal, senior advisor says

Are we in a market bubble after recent global highs? Bob Parker, senior advisor International Capital Markets Association, weighs in.

Puma up 2.5% despite analyst price target cuts

Puma shares were 2.5% higher in mid-morning trade, regaining some of the prior session's 4% loss even as analysts at Goldman Sachs and TD Cowen on Wednesday trimmed target prices on the stock.

The German sportwear retailer on Tuesday reported currency-adjusted sales growth of 6.6%, and earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) within its prior guidance range of 622 million euros ($671.9 million).

It also flagged a "volatile environment that impacted the whole industry" and said the market remained challenging. It again flagged the impact of the devaluation of the Argentine peso on business.

— Jenni Reid

Vodafone Group agrees 8 billion euro sale of Italian business to Swisscom

Vodafone Group on Wednesday confirmed it is in exclusive talks with Swisscom over the sale of its Italian business, and that a deal has been agreed, subject to confirmation, for 8 billion euros ($8.66 billion) on a debt and cash free basis.

The British telecoms firm rejected an updated proposal from France's Iliad to merge their Italian businesses at the end of January. The company had offered Vodafone 6.6 billion euros in cash and 2 billion euros in a shareholder loan.

"Vodafone has engaged extensively with several parties to explore market consolidation in Italy and believes this potential transaction delivers the best combination of value creation, upfront cash proceeds and transaction certainty for Vodafone shareholders," the company said Wednesday of the Swisscom transaction.

It also stressed that the transaction was not certain and that a further announcement would be made in future.

— Jenni Reid

CNBC Pro: Ark Invest says this 'optimal' bitcoin strategy will yield better returns

Bitcoin prices have rebounded since 2023, recovering from steep declines in the couple of years before.

Prices of the cryptocurrency are still rallying. Two weeks ago, it regained its $1 trillion market cap as it hit an over two-year high. On Tuesday, bitcoin prices reached a two-year high of over $56,000.

How much of investors' portfolios should be allocated to bitcoin, and what's the minimum amount of time they should hold the asset for? Here's what Ark Invest says.

CNBC Pro subscribers can read more here.

— Weizhen Tan

S&P 500, Nasdaq Composite close slightly higher Tuesday

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A trader works during the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 17, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. 

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite ended Tuesday's trading session in the green. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average came under pressure.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq climbed 0.17% and 0.37%, respectively. The Dow slipped nearly 97 points, or 0.25%.

— Hakyung Kim

CNBC Pro: This Big Tech stock has an 'absolutely compelling' valuation, top fund manager says

One Big Tech stock has plummeted over 65% since its all-time high despite growing revenue and earnings.

Andrew Lapping, Ranmore's chief investment officer, believes the stock is now at an "absolutely compelling" valuation for investors.

CNBC Pro subscribers can read more here.

— Ganesh Rao

Apple cancels plans for electric car and leans into generative artificial intelligence, report says

Apple is canceling plans to build an electric car and is instead leaning into generative artificial intelligence, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

Apple scaled back its vision for the EV project last month and moved initial launch date back to 2028 from 2026, Bloomberg added. The company had originally planned for the car to be fully self driving but instead shifted to a semi-autonomous model last month. Some of the employees devoted to Apple's EV project will now work on generative AI, the report added.

Apple stock gained 0.5% following the news.

— Brian Evans

Current market rally can't be compared to the tech bubble, says Citi's Scott Chronert

While it's true that the current bull rally is being propelled by AI- and tech-adjacent stocks, Citi's Scott Chronert disagrees with comparisons to the great Tech Bubble.

"Current multiples are well below '99-'00 levels. Further, our subjective view is that the fundamental circumstance is meaningfully different now vs then," Citi Research's head of U.S. equity strategy wrote.

However, Chronert cautioned that stock fundamentals still have to support the rally in order to sustain his S&P 500 year-end target of 5,100.

"That said, the current spending ramp on gen AI infrastructure and product will need to translate to incremental revenue and growth drivers. But it is premature to judge that," he added. "While the index may overshoot our year-end 5100 target in the short term, it seems premature to increase the probability of our 5700 bull case scenario."

— Lisa Kailai Han

European markets: Here are the opening calls

European markets are set to open higher Wednesday.

The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index is expected to open 6 points higher at 7,689, Germany's DAX up 28 points at 17,587, France's CAC 7 points higher at 7,957 and Italy's FTSE MIB up 21 points at 32,753, according to data from IG. 

Earnings are set to come from Moncler, Reckitt Benckiser, Aston Martin Lagonda, Co-operative Bank and Holcim. Data releases include Russian unemployment figures and retail sales for January.

— Holly Ellyatt

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