Markets in wait and see mode ahead of U.S. jobs data
An investor gestures as he monitors the stock prices at a private securities company Thursday in Shanghai, China.
LONDON — Stock markets were flat Friday ahead of key U.S. jobs figures that could have a major impact on the country's presidential campaign. The euro, meanwhile, slid heavily after figures pointed to a deeper than anticipated recession in the 17-country eurozone and fears grew of a political crisis in Greece.
With the election on Tuesday, the nonfarm payrolls data could swing the votes of those undecided whether to give President Barack Obama another term or support Mitt Romney. In an election as tight as this one, that could be crucial.
A run of upbeat U.S. economic figures on Thursday, particularly a closely-monitored survey of consumer confidence, gave world stocks and the dollar a boost. Many investors now think that the October jobs report may come in better than previous projections. The consensus is that the U.S. economy generated around 125,000 jobs during the month, but that the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 7.9 percent.
"A good number will certainly help Obama even more; whilst a bad number might throw the race open again," said Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at Interactive Investor.
With such uncertainty, stock markets in Europe barely budged. Earlier, Asian stocks rallied as investors caught up with the previous days' bout of good U.S. economic news.
In Europe, Germany's DAX was flat at 7,337 as was Britain's FTSE 100 at 5,864. The CAC-40 in France was 0.1 percent lower at 3,472.
Wall Street was poised for a steady opening too, with both Dow futures and the S&P 500 futures down 0.1 percent. How they actually open will likely hinge on the jobs figures which are released an hour before the opening bell.
Elsewhere, the euro was down after poor manufacturing figures for the 17-country eurozone — by midmorning London time it was 0.4 percent lower at $1.2888.
The fall in the October purchasing managers index — a gauge of business activity — fell to 45.4 in October from 46.1 in September. Anything below 50 indicates a contraction in activity. Particularly worrying was that most of the euro countries are seeing their manufacturing sectors contract, including Germany and France.
The euro is also being weighed down by worries over Greece, with signs that the coalition government is fracturing ahead of a parliamentary vote next week on a (euro) 13.5 billion package of spending cuts and tax increases that are required by international creditors in return for giving the country more bailout cash.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has said the country will start running out of money by the middle of the month, so the clock is ticking.
"It all looks very fragile," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.
Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index advanced 1.2 percent to close at 9,051.22. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.3 percent to 22,111.33 and South Korea's Kospi gained 1.1 percent to 1,918.72.
Oil prices gave up most of the previous session's gains — benchmark oil for December delivery fell 82 cents to $86.27 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
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