Markets lackluster as global unease remains

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Worries over the European economy and a slightly worse-than-expected private payrolls report in the U.S. weighed on markets Wednesday.

With retail sales across the 18-country eurozone down a monthly 1.6 percent in December, there are growing concerns the recovery didn't accelerate in the fourth quarter. Investors are keen to see how the European Central Bank reacts after its policy meeting Thursday, with many now forecasting another interest rate reduction, especially at a time when inflation is stubbornly low across the eurozone.

And news that the U.S. economy generated 175,000 private jobs in January did little to dislodge jitters that this Friday's official report may prove disappointing in light of the recent bad weather across the country. The figures from payrolls processor ADP were around 15,000 shy of the consensus forecast in the markets.

The reaction in the markets to the ADP miss was fairly modest, though, perhaps because it doesn't always accurately foretell the official figures. There was little reaction in currency markets, where the euro was flat at $1.3520.

"Bear in mind that the ADP has overestimated the official figure for the past two months, and by 140,000 in December alone — that is the biggest miss in five years," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Investors will be looking to see if a survey of the services sector from the Institute for Supply Management can provide any clearer guidance ahead of Friday's figures, which have the potential to drive markets for days.

In Europe, stocks gave up earlier gains and most major indexes were trading down. Though the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.2 percent at 6,491, Germany's DAX fell 0.4 percent to 9,094. The CAC-40 in France was 0.2 percent lower at 4,111.

Wall Street was poised for a steady opening at the bell, with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures 0.1 percent lower.

Stocks around the world have had a tough start to the year after many indexes, including the two major Wall Street ones, hit record highs in 2013.

Many reasons for the turmoil have been touted, including uncertainty over the outlook for emerging economies, such as India, Brazil and Turkey, in the wake of the U.S. Federal Reserve's recent moves to reduce its monetary stimulus. The stimulus, in its various guises, has helped shore up markets, particularly in developing countries from Brazil to Turkey to India, since the financial crisis.

Investors may also be getting nervous about the fact that U.S. lawmakers have yet to agree on a deal to lift the debt ceiling this month. If they don't, the U.S. faces the prospect of defaulting on some of its debts.

A string of soft U.S. data and ongoing uncertainty over the debt ceiling could prompt the Fed to slow the pace at which it withdraws its stimulus.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei recovered some of the previous day's losses, closing 1.2 percent higher at 14,180.38 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.6 percent to 21,269.38. Elsewhere, Chinese markets remained closed for the Lunar New Year holiday until Friday.

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