European markets up modestly; Asia markets mixed

LONDON -- Europe's stock markets opened slightly higher Friday after a resilient performance in Asia overnight but trading was cautious ahead of the closely-watched U.S. jobs report for Friday, which analysts warned could spark a renewed bout of selling.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 46.73 points, or 1.1%, at 4,319.14, while Germany's DAX was 29.31 points, or 0.6%, higher at 4,842.88. The CAC-40 in France was up 8.49 points, or 0.3%, at 3,395.74.

Europe's modest gains follow a better than anticipated performance in Asia, notably in Hong Kong and South Korea, which rose despite another sharp fall on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones index closed 443.48 points, or 4.9%, lower at 8,695.79. Japan's Nikkei fell, but pared its losses before closing.

"Many traders will however end up waiting for the release of the U.S. non-farm payroll data before deciding how to finish the week — another big negative number is expected today but anything too harsh here could act as another prompt for further selling in the near term," said Matt Buckland, a dealer at CMC Markets.

The report is expected to show net job losses for October running at about 200,000 and the unemployment rate rising 0.2 percentage points to 6.3%, equal to the highest unemployment rate logged after the last U.S. recession in June 2003.

"So the day of the publication of what has traditionally been the juggernaut of all economics statistics arrives again, and while markets are still more in navel gazing mode than fundamentally driven, today's report will command some attention," said Marc Ostwald, a strategist at Monument Securities.

"As ever revisions will need to be accounted for, but it is perfectly clear that the picture is grim," he added.

Dow futures are predicting a 167 recovery at the open 8,868, but that may all change if the payrolls data are substantially different from the consensus.

Concerns about the outlook of the global economic are dominating market sentiment at the moment after rallying in the early part of the week ahead of the U.S. election and on the victory of Senator Barack Obama.

Investors know that Obama will have his work cut out to improve the U.S.'s immediate economic prospects and that Inauguration Day is still more than two months away.

Those economic concerns were stoked further Thursday by a warning from the International Monetary Fund that the economies of the U.S., Europe and Japan are set to contract in 2009 as part of the first annual decline by the advanced economies since World War II.

Earlier Hong Kong's Hang Seng index, down over 3% early in the session, came back to end 3.3% higher at 14,243.43. Analysts pointed to an interest rate cut by leading bank HSBC Holdings Inc. — the result of recent softening in interbank rates amid persistent liquidity injections from central bankers — as a major catalyst.

South Korea's main stock index rebounded from a 4.9% fall to close 3.9% higher after the country's central bank cut interest rates by a quarter of a point — the third cut in less than a month — in a bid to boost an economy hammered by the global financial crisis.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 stock average pared its early 7% loss to close down 316.14 points, or 3.6%, to 8,583. Investor sentiment took a hit after Japan's top automaker Toyota slashed its annual forecast to a third of what it was a year ago. Its shares plunged 9.2%.

Singapore's index gained 2.4%, recovering from steep early losses trigged in part by worse-than-expected quarterly results from DBS Group Holdings Ltd. The Singapore-based bank, Southeast Asia's largest, also said it would cut some 900 jobs.

Elsewhere, oil prices rebounded modestly after plummeting overnight, with a barrel of light, sweet crude for December delivery up $1.56 to $62.33. The contract fell 7% to settle at $60.77 overnight.

The dollar was trading 0.2% lower at 97.48 yen while the euro was 0.9% higher at $1.2829.