LONDON (AP) -- Caution was the watch-word Friday as investors awaited U.S. retail sales figures in the run-up to a crucial meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve next week. Ongoing uncertainty over Syria also kept a lid on sentiment.
The consensus in the markets is that retail sales rose by a monthly 0.4 percent in August. Though that's hardly spectacular, analysts said it would probably be enough to cement market expectations that the Fed will start reducing its stimulus at the end of its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday. Producer price data for August will also be monitored.
Currently, most analysts expect the Fed to begin "tapering" its stimulus by $10 billion. The Fed has been buying $85 billion in bonds every month in an attempt to keep a lid on borrowing rates and boost lending. Most economic indicators have suggested that the U.S. economy, the world's largest, is healing.
Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets, said the softer tone in markets ahead of the data later "suggests an element of caution in the absence of any new drivers to propel markets beyond their previous all-time highs."
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.3 percent at 6,573 while Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent to 8,487. The CAC-40 in France was 0.2 percent lower at 4,100.
Wall Street was poised for a steady opening with Dow futures and the broader S&P futures down 0.1 percent. How they open will likely hinge on the retail sales figures in particular, which are released an hour before the bell.
As well as focusing on the future of Fed policy, investors continued to monitor any developments surrounding Syria. Russia proposed Monday that Syria avoid a U.S. military strike by surrendering control over its chemical weapons. Damascus quickly jumped at the offer. Top U.S. and Russian diplomats are holding talks in Geneva to discuss the specifics.
The cautious tone was also clearly evident earlier in Asia, with Japan's Nikkei rising 0.1 percent to 14,404.67. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 0.2 percent to 22,915.28, while South Korea's Kospi was down 0.5 percent at 1,994.32.
Foreign exchange markets were also caught up in the mood, with the euro down 0.1 percent at $1.3286 while the dollar up the same rate to 99.67 yen. Oil prices drifted back after couple days of modest gains. The benchmark New York rate was down 99 cents at $107.61 a barrel.