World stocks weighed down by glum US economic data

World stock markets weighed down as US economic data disappoints

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- World stock markets fell Friday as strong U.S. company earnings failed to calm worries the world's No. 1 economy is struggling to maintain its recovery.

Lackluster data from the U.S. that included unemployment benefit applications and house sales comes on top of slowing growth in China, the world's second-biggest economy, and a gloomy picture in Europe where austerity is hobbling growth.

Markets have begun pinning hopes on further measures to stimulate the Chinese economy though Beijing is likely to remain wary of reigniting inflation and stoking a new round of increases in house prices.

In early European trading, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.2 percent to 5,734.79. Germany's DAX lost 0.2 percent to 6,661.29 even though a key index showed German business confidence rising for a sixth straight month. The CAC-40 in Paris shed 0.3 percent to 3,163.19.

Wall Street appeared headed for a marginally higher opening ahead of quarterly earnings from corporate giants such as McDonald's Corp., General Electric Co., and Schlumberger Ltd. Earnings the day before from Morgan Stanley, eBay, Southwest Airlines and Bank of America were better than expected.

Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.1 percent to 12,917 and S&P 500 futures were marginally higher at 1,373.20.

In Asia, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index dropped 0.3 percent to close at 9,561.36.

South Korea's Kospi lost 1.3 percent to 1,974.65, with the government saying that exports are likely to face headwinds in the second quarter due to Europe's debt crisis and China's slowdown.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, India and New Zealand also fell. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 closed marginally higher at 4,366.50.

Shares in Hong Kong and mainland China rose amid expectations that Beijing will soon lower the ratio of deposits that banks are required to hold in reserve — a move that would boost lending.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose less than 0.1 percent to 21,010.64 and the Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.2 percent to 2,406.86. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index gained 0.8 percent to 961.77.

"I expect the central bank of China will have another reserve ratio requirement cut by at least 50 basis points as early as the end of April, because on May 1, China's market will be closed for almost a week for a long holiday," said Dickie Wong, executive director of research at Kingston Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong.

Last week, China reported that its first-quarter economic growth was the slowest since the second quarter of 2009. Its economy grew by 8.1 percent in the three months ending in March, down from the previous quarter's 8.9 percent.

In Tokyo trading, Olympus Corp. jumped 5.1 percent as the Japanese camera and medical-equipment maker got shareholder approval for new management after executives behind a cover-up of massive investment losses were forced out.

In energy trading, benchmark oil for May delivery was up 42 cents to $102.69 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell by 40 cents to end at $102.27 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

The euro rose to $1.3154 from $1.3130 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 81.71 yen from 81.46 yen.

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