Markets drift as investors ponder outlook

A woman chats with her fellow investor at a private securities company Tuesday, March 12, 2013 in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets dropped Tuesday, dragged down by new worries about China's recovery and Europe's doldrums. (AP Photo)

LONDON Financial markets were leaden-footed on Tuesday, a day after the Dow Jones index posted its seventh straight rise to record another all-time high.

With many of the world's major stock indexes at multi-year highs, too, investors have paused to mull whether the rally can make another push higher.

So far, a dearth of scheduled economic news has kept investors on the sidelines but a pick-up over the rest of the week will test confidence in stocks' valuation.

"Nobody wants to get off the gravy train too soon, but on the other hand no one wants to commit to buying a season ticket," said David Madden, market analyst at IG.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 6,502 while Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent to 7,979. The CAC-40 in France was 0.1 percent higher at 3,838.

Wall Street was poised for a modest retreat at the open, with both Dow futures and the S&P 500 futures down 0.2 percent.

While the Dow has recorded a series of all-time highs, the S&P has also made ground and it, too, is not far off its record peaks.

"Although the S&P is within a whisker of fresh all-time highs, history has shown us that in both 2000 and 2007 when it's been around this level, it's been the tipping point for a considerable sell-off," said Fawad Razaqzada, market strategist at GFT Markets. "Whether 2013 can be any different remains to be seen."

It's fairly quiet across most other financial markets, with the euro hovering around $1.30 and the price of benchmark New York crude down 12 cents at $91.94 a barrel.

However, two currencies were prominent movers.

The British pound fell as far as $1.4830, its lowest level since June 2010, after weak British industrial production figures raised fears that Europe's third-largest economy was heading for its third recession in a little more than four years. The pound has since settled around the $1.4880 mark.

The Japanese yen was also a focal point once again, as it recovered some of its recent losses. The dollar was 0.8 percent lower at $95.86 yen. The yen earlier fell to a three and a half year low against the dollar on mounting expectations that the Bank of Japan will soon announce a big stimulus program to get the moribund Japanese economy going again.

The reverse in the yen had an impact on the country's main stock index, the Nikkei 225. It did an about-face after spurting higher in the morning. After hitting 12,461.97, an intraday high not seen in more than four years, the benchmark dropped 0.3 percent to close at 12,314.81. That finish put an end to an eight-day winning streak.

The index's moves have hinged on the fortunes of the yen. A lower currency potentially makes the country's exports more competitive in international markets.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 22,890.60. Australia's S&P/ASX dropped 0.6 percent to 5,117.90. South Korea's Kospi shed 0.5 percent to 1,993.34.