Markets cautious ahead of U.S. corporate earnings

Market Analyze CBS/iStockphoto

LONDON Stocks were being traded cautiously across global markets Tuesday as investors prepared for the start of the U.S. corporate earnings season and digested a mixed batch of European economic indicators.

The markets will get a feel for the health of corporate America as earnings reports start coming in. Aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. will be the first major company to release results for the fourth quarter of 2012 on Tuesday after U.S. markets close.

Events during the quarter such as Superstorm Sandy, the presidential election, and worries about the narrowly avoided "fiscal cliff" could lead to some unexpected results.

By midday in Europe, Germany's DAX was 0.1 percent higher at 7,738.10 and Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.1 percent to 6,072.09. France's CAC-40 rose 0.5 percent to 3,721.34. The euro edged up 0.1 percent to $1.3123.

Wall Street appeared for a somewhat weaker open -- futures in both the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader S&P 500 were down 0.1 percent, to 13,300 and 1,454.30.

Although caution over the results pushed Asian indexes to close lower, European shares edged higher as official figures showed that, while unemployment in the region kept rising, economic sentiment was improving.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, said unemployment in the 17-country eurozone hit 11.8 percent in December, a record high and up from 11.7 percent the previous month. The figure highlights the huge economic challenge facing Europe - although financial market turmoil has subsided, the labor market continues to weaken.

Investors found some comfort in a separate report showing business and consumer sentiment in the eurozone rose in December by more than analysts were expecting and that retail sales edged up in November. That suggests that the improvement in financial markets during those months helped economic activity stabilize.

Analysts warned, however, not to expect any imminent turnaround in the economy.

"While it looks like economic activity may have bottomed out around October, any recovery still looks a hard slog," said Howard Archer, an economist with IHS Global Insight.

Earlier, Japan's Nikkei 225 index tumbled 0.9 percent to 10,508.06 as the yen crept upward against the U.S. dollar. With the dollar down 0.4 percent at 87.46 yen, some investors sold export shares that had surged as the currency weakened in recent weeks. Toyota Motor Corp. fell 2 percent while Mazda Motor Corp. plunged 5 percent. Nintendo Co. shed 3.1 percent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 23,111.19. South Korea's Kospi lost 0.7 percent to 1,997.94. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand fell, while Malaysia and the Philippines rose. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.6 percent to 4,690.20.

"Investors are taking a wait-and-see attitude," said Evan Lucas, strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, adding that many investors went for profits ahead of the release Wednesday of weekly jobless claims in the U.S. and the European Central Bank's rate-setting meeting Thursday.

"A lot of eyes are watching what will happen in Europe and America over the next couple of days," he said.

Major indexes surged last week after U.S. lawmakers passed a bill to avoid a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases that have come to be known as the fiscal cliff. The deal, however, remains incomplete. Politicians will face another deadline in two months to agree on more spending cuts.

"The looming budget battle in the U.S. has also prompted some hesitancy to buy risk assets," said analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 55 cents to $93.74 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 10 cents to close at $93.19 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.

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