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Global markets muted ahead of U.S. jobs report

SEOUL, South Korea - European stocks traded cautiously ahead of a U.S. jobs report Friday that could influence when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates this year. Asian markets were mostly higher after being buoyed by positive news about the global economy.

European stock markets got off to a lukewarm start, with Britain's FTSE 100 little changed at 6,955.63. Germany's DAX was flat at 11,501.53 while France's CAC 40 edged down 0.2 percent to 4,953.36. Futures augured a tepid start for Wall Street. S&P 500 futures and Dow futures each shed less than 0.1 percent.

The U.S. government issues the February jobs report on Friday. The consensus forecast is that the world's largest economy added 240,000 jobs last month after adding 257,000 jobs in January. Analysts said wage increases will be the most keenly-watched data from the U.S. employment report; the slow pace of wage growth has been a disappointment so far. Stronger wage growth would likely add to pressure on the Fed to raise borrowing rates this year for the first time since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Asian stock markets closed mostly higher, except for China and Hong Kong, boosted by an upgraded growth forecast for the eurozone. Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.2 percent to 18,971.00 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.7 percent to 2,012.94. Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged down 0.1 percent to 24,164.00. Stocks in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia rose but Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.1 percent at 5,898.90.

As the current climate of low interest rates drives gains in stock markets, "all eyes will be on tonight's U.S. employment data which has the capacity to influence thinking on the timing and pace of Fed plans to lift U.S. rates," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a commentary. "The ECB's increased 2015 growth forecast indicates some upside potential for markets as Europe benefits from cheaper oil prices and a weaker currency."

On Thursday, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi gave an optimistic view about the single-currency economy with the bank revising up its growth forecast to 1.5 percent this year from 1 percent. While the central bank took no major policy action, the president said the bank's planned 1 trillion euro ($1.1 trillion) stimulus program will begin on Monday.

Benchmark U.S. crude was up 38 cents to $51.14 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 77 cents to close at $50.76 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 54 cents to $61.02 in London.

The dollar fell to 120.07 yen from 120.16 yen in the previous session. The euro fell to $1.0982 from $1.1030.

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