World stock markets wavered Thursday amid inflation data in China that failed to meet expectations and fears of a possible recession in Europe.
Benchmark oil rose above $101 per barrel while the dollar fell against the euro but rose against the yen.
Stocks failed to find firm direction early in Europe. Britain's FTSE 100 fell marginally to 5,668.61 while Germany's DAX rose 0.2 percent to 6,167.10 and France's CAC-40 gained 0.4 percent to 3,218.37. Wall Street braced for a lower opening, with both Dow Jones industrial futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down less than 0.1 percent to 12,381 and 1,287.30 respectively.
Equity markets in Asia lost ground earlier in the day.
Japan's Nikkei 225 Index fell 0.7 percent to close at 8,385.59, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng drifted 0.3 percent lower to 19,095.38. Australia's S&P ASX 200 fell 0.2 percent to 4,181.
Mainland Chinese shares also fell, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index down marginally to 2,275.01 and the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index shedding 0.4 percent to 876.81. Shares were hurt by data released Thursday that showed China's inflation eased only slightly in December to 4.1 percent, from November's 4.2 percent. Analysts had hoped to see more improvement.
The decline in Chinese inflation "is less than expectations, so the market is a little disappointed that it did not fall below 4 percent," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong. "I think we can say the worst of inflation is over for now, but what looms over the horizon may not be good."
Politically sensitive food costs accelerated to 9.1 percent from November's 8.8 percent, making it problematic for Beijing to take steps to stimulate slowing economic growth. The December rise in Chinese food costs was driven by a 21.3 percent jump in the price of pork, the country's staple meat, and a 6.9 percent jump in grain prices.
Analysts blame the price surge on strong consumer demand and the flood of money from Beijing's multibillion-dollar stimulus that helped China rebound quickly from the 2008 global economic crisis.
Meanwhile, growth problems in Europe continued to spook investors. Germany reported Wednesday that its economy shrank slightly at the end of last year. And the European Union revised its figures for economic growth in the third quarter to 0.1 percent, its slowest pace in more than two years.
A recession on the continent could slam many export-reliant Asian companies, which are already battered by weak global demand. In Japan, Toyota Motor Corp. fell down 1.2 percent and Nissan Motor Corp. lost 1.5 percent. Electronics giant Sharp Corp. dropped 3.1 percent. Panasonic Corp. gave up 2.5 percent.
China's export growth has fallen steadily since August, raising the threat of more bankruptcies and job losses among struggling exporters. Industry indicators show manufacturing and export orders contracted in November and December and growth in China's imports of raw materials showed an unexpectedly sharp decline in December.
Shares of Indian outsourcing giant Infosys fell 7.6 percent, after the company said the global economic slowdown and chaos in Europe would hurt growth.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 13.02 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 12,449.45. The S&P 500 gained marginally to 1,292.48. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 0.3 percent to 2,710.76.
In energy trading, benchmark crude for February deliver rose 68 cents to $101.56 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.37 to end at $100.87 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.
The euro rose to $1.2718 from $1.2697 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 76.95 yen from 76.87 yen.
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