PARIS (AP) — Global stock markets were in a holding pattern ahead of a U.S. jobs report later Friday that is expected to reflect a downturn in hiring following a massive storm but could also show that the American economy is otherwise bouncing back.
Investors are also treading carefully amid uncertainty over whether Congress will avoid the "fiscal cliff" — a mix of potentially calamitous tax rises and spending cuts that will take effect next year if lawmakers don't reach an agreement on the U.S. budget.
The Labor Department will release November's job figures later in the day. Superstorm Sandy forced stores and restaurants to close all along the East Coast and the affected employees will be counted as out of work. But many economists think that if the effects of the storm are put aside, the data will show the U.S. economy is picking up steam.
"Markets are likely to be fairly quiet until the release of U.S. non-farm early this afternoon, which will direct investors as to whether or not the Santa rally can really be supported," said David White, a trader with Spreadex.
Germany's DAX pulled back 0.1 percent at 7,533, while France's CAC-40 rose 0.2 percent to 3,607. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 5,900.
Major American indexes were expected to open flat. Dow Jones futures were at 13,064, while S&P 500 futures were at 1,413.
Earlier, many Asian stocks also struggled to find a direction. After opening higher, Japan's Nikkei 225 index ended the day 0.2 percent down at 9,527.39. South Korea's Kospi added 0.4 percent to 1,957.45. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.9 percent to 4,551.80. Hong Kong's Hang Seng reversed course and closed down 0.3 percent to 22,191.17.
Mainland Chinese shares posted substantial gains after recent sharp sell-offs. The Shanghai Composite Index climbed 1.6 percent to 2,061.79. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index jumped 2.1 percent to 786.05.
Investors are also still digesting information from Thursday's European Central Bank meeting. The central bank said that the economies of 17 EU countries that use the euro will contract next year but stopped short of offering new measures to boost growth and left its key interest rate unchanged at a record low.
The combined economy of the euro countries is in a recession after a massive debt crisis followed by government spending cuts and tax hikes that have hurt growth.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 11 cents to $86.37 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The euro fell to $1.2931 from $1.2963 late Thursday in New York.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok and Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed to this report.