European, US stocks steady after big gains

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2010 9:48 AM

European and U.S. stock markets took a breather Tuesday following the best New Year start since 2003 as investors looked ahead to a big week of economic data releases around the world.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 22.24 points, or 0.4 percent, at 5,522.58 while France's CAC-40 rose 4.12 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,038.18. Germany's DAX fell 10.12 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6,038.18.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 7.03 points, or 0.1 percent, at 10,576.93 soon after the open while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.54 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,133.53.

The muted performance comes a day after European and U.S. stocks kicked off the year with a flyer after strong manufacturing data stoked hopes that the economic recovery this year may be stronger than anticipated.

Monday's manufacturing data started a big week in terms of economic releases. Most attention will likely center on Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls data for December and many in the markets expect the first job creation in two years. The jobs data often set the stock market tone for a week or two.

"Equity markets may worry about inflation if the Friday number comes in high, but we believe it will provide confidence about the economy as corporate earnings season kicks off next Monday," said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group.

Other key economic news this week include global services activity data on Wednesday and a raft of speeches from U.S. Federal Reserve officials as well as the publication of the minutes to the last Fed rate-setting meeting.

There will be some interest later in a Commerce Department report on U.S. factory orders as well as the National Association of Realtors' pending home sales figures.

The key driver to stock market performance, at least in the first part of the year, will likely be whether economic figures back up the optimism that is evident in company valuations following a nine month bull run.

Stock markets around the world rallied strongly since March's lows _ the Dow and the S&P 500 for example surged more than 60 percent since then _ as investors grew more optimistic about the global economic recovery after central banks and governments pushed through extraordinary policy measures to mitigate the deepest recession since World War II.

Earlier, Asian markets joined in the early year advance, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng up 456.30 points, or 2.1 percent, to 22,279.58 and Shanghai's main stock measure climbing 1.2 percent to 3,282.18 after falling the day before. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock average added 27.04 points, or 0.3 percent, to 10,681.83, its advance curtailed in the afternoon session on selling of exporters as the yen climbed again the dollar.

Elsewhere, Australia's market was up 1 percent, helped by stronger commodity prices while Singapore's index gained 0.8 percent. However, South Korea's Kospi edged down 0.3 percent to 1,690.62.

Oil prices extended their gains, with benchmark crude for February delivery up 38 cents at $81.89 a barrel. The contract jumped $2.15 overnight.

The dollar slid 0.9 percent to 91.64 yen while the euro edged up 0.1 percent to $1.4396.

The U.S. currency, which has enjoyed big gains over the last month or so, was back under pressure after U.S. Federal Reserve official Elizabeth Duke said the central bank had to keep interest rates at ultra low levels for a while yet, despite mounting signals of an improving U.S. economy.

As in the stock markets, all eyes in the currency markets will be on Friday's U.S. jobs data and how the dollar reacts.

"It was the surprising strength of the November payrolls data that played a key role in causing the market to reevaluate its outlook in favor of dollar strength last month and Friday's release will be key in resolving some of the concerns regarding the likely strength of the U.S. economy this year," said Jane Foley, research director at Forex.com.

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AP Business Writer Jeremiah Marquez in Hong Kong contributed to this report.