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European stocks remain lower after US jobs data

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European stock markets and Wall Street futures remained lower Wednesday after a survey reported bigger than expected job losses in the U.S. in December, just a couple days ahead of key government unemployment figures.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 15.45 points, or 0.3 percent, at 5,507.05 while Germany’s DAX fell 10.28 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6,021.58. The CAC-40 in France was 8.3 points, or 0.2 percent, lower at 4,004.61.

Wall Street was also poised for a subdued opening — Dow futures were down 21 points, or 0.2 percent, at 10,494 while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 futures fell 3.6 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,128.70.

Figures from the ADP payrolls firm did little to entice any renewed buying.

Its survey indicated that the number of private sector jobs shed in December was at its lowest since March 2008, but the market had been expecting something better — the 84,000 jobs lost during the month was higher than the 70,000 anticipated.

Though the ADP figures do not often correspond to the government data, they stoked some concerns that Friday’s official figures may not be as good as anticipated. Many market participants actually think the figures could show nonfarm payrolls rising for the first time in two years.

The government data are a crucial hurdle in the markets as they often set the tone for a week or two.

“If payrolls are reported to have risen, the result will be greeted as marking the end of a recession that began, in the U.S., in December 2007,” said Stephen Lewis, an analyst at Monument Securities.

“If, on the other hand, payrolls shrink further, the markets may have to reserve judgment on whether this year will witness a sustained economic upswing,” he added.

The U.S. economy is at the forefront of investors’ attention in the first trading week of the New Year. Since Monday, when investors charged into 2010 in a buoyant mood following strong manufacturing data, trading has been lackluster amid mixed economic news.

Further momentum — one way or the other — could be generated later when the monthly services sector survey from the Institute for Supply Management is published. Analysts will be poring over the data to see if it is as buoyant as the equivalent manufacturing report on Monday.

The publication of the minutes to the last rate-setting meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve could also excite interest as investors try to get a clearer idea about the growing tensions between the doves and the hawks on the Federal Open Market Committee.

Earlier in Asia, Japanese stocks shrugged off speculation the country’s finance minister, one of the few experienced hands in the new government’s Cabinet, will resign because of ill health. Hirohisa Fujii, 77, checked into hospital on Dec. 28 for rest and health checks.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average closed up 49.62 points, or 0.5 percent, at a new 15-month high of 10,731.45.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.6 percent to 22,416.67 and South Korea’s Kospi climbed 0.9 percent to 1,705.32. Australia’s benchmark advanced 0.2 percent and Singapore’s market gained 0.2 percent but China’s Shanghai index dropped 0.9 percent.

Oil prices hovered below $82 a barrel after a report showed U.S. crude supplies fell more than expected last week. Benchmark crude for February delivery was down 31 cents at $81.46 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The dollar recouped most of the previous day’s losses against the yen after the news of Fujii’s health problems, rising 0.7 percent to 92.34 yen.

Though any new finance minister would still face the same deflationary concerns that occupy Fujii, the currency markets are skeptical that any successor could be as effective in resisting calls for a bigger fiscal boost.

The euro was steady at $1.4360 despite renewed concerns about Greece’s debt after European Central Bank official Juergen Stark said the EU would not rescue Greece if its fiscal position worsened.

Stark, a rate-setting member of the ECB’s governing council, told Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore that according to eurozone treaties, Greece has no right to claim fiscal support from other member states.

“Markets are deluding themselves if they think that member states will open their wallets to save Greece,” he said.

Jane Foley, research director at Forex.com, said the political will embedded within European monetary union means that cracks within the EU will likely continue to be papered over despite Stark’s comments.

“While the market remains very skeptical on the Greek government’s ability to cut the budget deficit to below 3 percent of GDP by 2012, there is an underlining assumption in the market that Greece would be supported if it became necessary,” said Foley.

© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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