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By Alison Sider

 

Analysts expect government data scheduled for release Thursday to show natural-gas stockpiles shrank less than the average for this time of year.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is expected to report storage levels shrank by 127 billion cubic feet of gas during the week ended Feb. 10, according to the average forecast of 15 analysts, brokers and traders surveyed by The Wall Street Journal.

The EIA is scheduled to release its storage data for the week on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EST.

For the Feb. 10 week, the median estimate is for a decrease of 125 bcf. Estimates range from a decrease of 139 bcf to a decrease of 114 bcf.

The estimate for Feb. 10 compares to 136 bcf drained from storage in the same week last year and a five-year average drain of 156 bcf for that week.

If the storage estimate is correct, inventories as of Feb. 10 totaled 2.43 trillion cubic feet, 11.5% below levels from a year ago and 3.1% above the five-year average for the same week.

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By Mike Bird and Willa Plank

Global stocks rose Wednesday after two days of declines for the dollar and equities, boosted by solid European economic data.

The moves came ahead of the Federal Reserve’s policy statement. Though investors expect little action from the meeting, any guidance on the path of interest rates could dent or boost the nascent global reflation trade.

In Europe, equity markets followed Asian markets higher. The Stoxx Europe 600 index climbed 1% in European trading, led by a 1.4% rise in France’s CAC 40.

U.S. futures rose too, with contracts for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 0.2%.

Strong European business surveys helped to buoy equities shortly after markets opened. Markit’s manufacturing purchasing managers index for the eurozone rose to 55.2, the highest level in 69 months. Any figure over 50 indicates that a sector is growing.

The Fed’s policy statement is due later Wednesday. While no rate change is expected after December’s quarter-point increase, investors are awaiting signals on whether the next one is more likely to come in March or later in 2017.

The Fed’s most recent “dot plot,” which maps the expected path of interest rates among Federal Open Market Committee members, suggests six interest rate increases in 2017 and 2018, while market expectations are for just four hikes in the same period.

“This ongoing gap between the market’s expectations and the future pace of rate increases shows that there is a kind of fragility in the U.S. markets,” said Franck Dixmier, global head of fixed income at Allianz Global Investors, in an email.

“It is in the Fed’s interest to be more precise about the future pace of rate increases,” Mr. Dixmier said.

Investor caution also persisted over any potential comments from the Trump administration.

“The market is going to have a difficult time to rally because we seem to have a loss of sentiment from the perceived recklessness,” said Christoffer Moltke-Leth, director of global sales trading at Saxo Capital Markets.

Adding to this sentiment were indications that the administration would prefer a weaker dollar. President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that Japan and China were devaluing their currencies. “Every other country lives on devaluation,” he said at a meeting with pharmaceutical executives. “They play the devaluation market, and we sit there like a bunch of dummies.”

Mr. Trump’s public discussion of the value of the dollar is a complicating factor for the Federal Reserve.

“It’s not necessarily unhelpful. A stronger dollar is a natural tightener on the U.S. economy because it brings exports down. A weaker dollar may make it a little easier for the Fed to hike,” said Alex Dryden, global markets strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. But Mr. Trump’s comments are a “wild card” for the Fed, Mr. Dryden added.

The Wall Street Journal Dollar index finished U.S. trading Tuesday at its lowest level since mid-November, but picked up 0.1% Wednesday.

The Nikkei Stock Average had opened lower during Asian trading, but rallied during the day. Buying accelerated after the lunch break as the dollar slowly moved higher, helping the Nikkei end up 0.6%.

Korea’s Kospi closed 0.6% higher amid stronger-than-expected trade figures and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 finished up 0.6%.

Some markets remained closed for the Lunar New Year break, including China. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 0.18% in its first session of the week, catching up with weakness in other Asian stocks the previous two days.

The euro traded at $1.079 Wednesday, after reaching a 2 1/2 -month high at $1.08 on Tuesday.

European bond markets were little changed Wednesday, with 10-year government bond yields in Germany at 0.462%, slightly above Tuesday’s close of 0.439%. Ten-year British government bond yields rose to 1.445% as markets opened, from 1.411%.

Another potential catalyst for the dollar will be the U.S. jobs report for January due on Friday.

Chelsey Dulaney, Liyan Qi and Kwanwoo Jun contributed to this article.

Write to Mike Bird at Mike.Bird@wsj.com and Willa Plank at willa.plank@wsj.com

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