European shares lower, while Japanese shares rally

TOKYO - European shares were mostly lower early Thursday as investors waited to see the outcome of negotiations between Greece and its eurozone creditors.

Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent to 6,871.27, while France's CAC 40 shed 0.3 percent to 4,786.14 and Germany's DAX lost 0.4 percent to 10,920.35. Wall Street also looked set for a dismal start, with Dow and S&P futures both 0.2 percent lower.

European policymakers are struggling to find a compromise that will keep Greece out of bankruptcy and in the eurozone.

Greece requested a six-month extension of its bailout program, but the proposal did not include the austerity measures that have been a key condition of the loans.

Athens' new government argues that six years of recession show that further austerity measures would just strangle growth, but creditor countries are refusing to lend it more money without tough conditions.

Most markets in Asia were closed Thursday for Lunar New Year holidays, but Japanese stocks climbed to their highest level in nearly 15 years early in the day after the release of strong trade data.

The Nikkei 225 stock index meandered later in the day, gaining 0.4 percent to 18,264.79 as it fell back from an intraday peak of 18,322.50 that was the benchmark's highest level since May 2000.

The rally was driven by strong buying of exporters and shipping lines after the government reported the trade deficit plunged nearly 60 percent on a 17 percent year-on-year jump in exports in January.

Elsewhere in the region, Australia's S&P ASX/200 lost 0.2 percent to 5,904.20. New Zealand's shares also fell.

Oil prices extended losses amid speculation that a recent rally in crude was excessive.

The price of benchmark U.S. crude, which rose last week, fell $1.74 to $50.40 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.39 to $52.14 a barrel Wednesday.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.57 cents to $58.96 a barrel.

The U.S. dollar fell to 118.63 against the Japanese yen, from 118.78 on Wednesday. The dollar edged up against the euro, to $1.1436 from $1.1399.