U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 23 mins

Euro drops on ECB warning but stocks edge higher

Carlo Piovano, Associated Press

An investor looks at the stock price monitor at a private securities company Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Shanghai, China. Asian shares rose Wednesday as Japan's benchmark surged to its highest level since Sept. 2008 though wariness over corporate earnings pulled European indexes lower in early trading. (AP Photo)

LONDON (AP) -- Stock markets were making small gains on Thursday though the euro fell sharply after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said he would monitor its value.

After the ECB kept interest rates on hold, as expected, Draghi told reporters at a press conference that the bank would "want to see if the (euro's) appreciation will alter our assessment as far as price stability is concerned."

That fueled speculation that the rising currency, which could cause an excessive drop in inflation, might prompt the ECB to cut interest rates in coming months.

The 17-country currency, lost all its previous gains to trade down 0.4 percent to $1.3467.

Stock markets held their poise, with Germany's DAX up 0.6 percent to 7,629.26 and France's CAC 40 up 0.3 percent at 3,655.09. Britain's FTSE 100 was down 0.4 percent to 6,273.08.

Wall Street was poised to rise after new data showed a drop in Americans seeking unemployment benefits and rising confidence among consumers. Dow futures rose 0.1 percent to 13,946 while the broader S&P 500 futures gained 0.1 percent to 1,508.80.

Corporate news was mostly positive, with shares rising in Credit Suisse, Daimler and Statoil after they announced profit increases. The stock of Alcatel-Lucent rose almost 8 percent on news that the CEO will leave, raising hopes for a change in direction for the troubled telecoms company.

Earlier in Asia, however, stocks ended the day mostly lower.

Japan's Nikkei 225 led the way with a 0.9 percent drop to close at 11,357.07 as investors cashed in their gains after the benchmark rose to its highest since September 2008 in the previous session.

South Korea's Kospi dipped 0.2 percent to 1,931.77 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.3 percent to 23,177. Benchmarks in India, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand also fell but Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 4,935.70.

Asia's other big loser was the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China, which ended 0.6 percent lower at 2,418.53. China's smaller Shenzhen Composite Index rose 0.5 percent to 956.73.

Chinese investors were most likely closing out their positions ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday next week.

"The market there has had a good run and people are just being nervous about remaining invested in the market over the Chinese New Year, when the market is closed for a week and they can't do anything," said Andrew Sullivan, director of Asian sales trading at Kim Eng Securities.

He said that holidays in China can be an especially uncertain time for investors because authorities in Beijing often use the occasion to announce new policy measures.

Sullivan added that Japan's currency-driven market rally may be over as investors bet there's little room for the country's currency to weaken further. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has insisted that the country's central bank act more aggressively to ease monetary policy to help spur economic growth, but Sullivan said investors are worried that "is going to have a knock-on effect to every other currency in the world."

A weaker yen benefits Japan's export manufacturers because it makes their products cheaper in overseas markets. Sony Corp. rose 2.6 percent in Tokyo after it reported a smaller fourth quarter loss as sales inched up thanks mostly to the weaker yen.

The dollar was up 0.2 percent against the Japanese yen, at 93.59 yen.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for March delivery rose 45 cents to $97.07 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 2 cents to end at $96.62 on Wednesday.


Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.