(For a live blog on European stocks, type LIVE/ in an Eikon news window)
* ECB's Lagarde says EU stimulus scheme to favour grants
* Richemont slides as sales halve, hits luxury stocks
* Sweden's SOBI, Sandvik dive after results
* Germany's Sartorius jumps on raising full-year forecast (Adds details of ECB meeting; updates prices to close)
By Sruthi Shankar and Susan Mathew
July 16 (Reuters) - European shares ended off session lows on Thursday ahead of a keenly awaited meeting to organise a European recovery fund, after weak earnings and a growing number of COVID-19 cases had earlier pushed stocks down from one-month highs.
European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde kept policy steady, as expected, and said the bank expected a pending European Union stimulus scheme to favour grants over loans, as hoped by investors. The bank expects to fully use its huge pandemic stimulus package to help the euro zone stay afloat, she added. of the 27 EU states are due to meet on Friday to try to hammer out their differences over how the 750 billion euro recovery fund will operate.
"We do not see an agreement being reached as the base case ahead of this EU summit," said strategists at ING. "We expect some progress towards a compromise being made, but some time for more negotiations is still required."
"This should allow a consolidation of the notion that the EU Recovery Fund will eventually come into existence – without having to be materially re-sized first."
Italy's FTSE MIB .FTMIB turned positive, boosted by gains in Telecom Italia TLIT.MI and Intesa Sanpaolo ISP.MI . Intesa is very confident of a positive outcome to its bid for smaller rival UBI Banca UBI.MI , a company executive said. as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the United States, worries over the economic damage from another round of containment measures persisted.
Unexpected weakness in domestic consumption in China, Europe's major trading partner, and heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing also weighed. MKTS/GLOB
European luxury goods group Richemont CFR.S fell 4.6% as its quarterly sales almost halved, and it gave no details on current trading or the outlook. in peers LVMH LVMH.PA and Kering PRTP.PA , which also rely on China for a large portion of their revenue, fell 1% and 1.3% respectively.
At the bottom of STOXX 600 were shares of Swedish Orphan Biovitrum SOBIV.ST after the rare diseases specialist's second quarter results missed expectations, while Sandvik SAND.ST , the world's biggest maker of metal-cutting tools, slumped after flagging a slow recovery in demand.
In contrast, German lab equipment maker Sartorius AG SATG.DE jumped 6.3% after raising its full-year forecast.
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