World stock markets uneven ahead of quarterly US economic growth report

EnergyAssociated Press

World stock markets were uneven Friday and Wall Street futures slid ahead of quarterly growth figures that will show whether weakness in China, Japan and Europe has hit the U.S. economy.

KEEPING SCORE: European markets swung between gains and losses in early trading. France's CAC 40 was down 0.3 percent to 4,617.72 and Germany's DAX was little changed at 10,738.14. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.6 percent to 6,772.63. U.S. stocks were set to open with a thud. Dow futures lost 0.7 percent to 17,311. Broader S&P 500 futures were down 0.6 percent to 2,006.80.

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U.S. ECONOMY: Investors were looking ahead to U.S. Commerce Department's release later Friday of the first of three estimates of growth in the world's biggest economy. The University of Michigan's monthly consumer sentiment index for January is also due. A FactSet survey of analysts forecast that the U.S. economy grew 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The U.S. zoomed ahead in the third quarter while Europe, Japan and China struggled. The fourth quarter report will show whether the momentum continued or succumbed to global headwinds.

JAPAN GLIMMER: Japan's industrial output edged higher in December, suggesting the world's third-largest economy may be turning the corner on a recession brought on by a hefty sales tax hike. Manufacturing output increased 0.3 percent in December from a year earlier and by 1 percent from the month before. Japan's jobless rate dipped to 3.4 percent from 3.5 percent the month before. But stagnant wages meant household spending dropped 3.4 percent from a year earlier.

ANALYST VIEW: "Japanese manufacturing activity continues its steady recovery, thanks to strong demand from overseas," HSBC economist Izumi Devalier said in a report. "The electronics and auto industries have been the key beneficiaries of the improvement in external demand, especially from the United States."

MARGIN PROBE: Worries about a new probe by Chinese regulators into margin trading depressed sentiment in Chinese markets. The China Securities Regulatory Commission plans to inspect 45 brokers, the official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday. Shanghai shares plunged earlier this month after the regulator imposed margin trading curbs on major brokerages. The mood was also cautious ahead of monthly factory data on the weekend that will show whether the world's No. 2 economy continues to slow.

ASIA'S DAY: The benchmark Nikkei 225 in Tokyo added 0.4 percent to close at 17,674.39 while South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.1 percent to 1,949.26. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 5,588.30. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.4 percent to 24,507.05 and China's Shanghai Composite dropped 1.6 percent to 3,210.36.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 27 cents to $44.81 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 8 cents to close at $44.53 on Thursday. Brent crude, a benchmark for oil sold internationally, lost 15 cents to $48.96 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 117.62 yen from 118.20 the previous day. The euro rose to $1.1343 from $1.1327.