Overseas stocks tick up ahead of U.S. jobs report

LONDON Stock markets edged higher on Friday ahead of the release of the U.S. government's monthly unemployment report, a key measure of the health of the world's largest economy.

Market sentiment had been buoyant since the day before, thanks to an interest rate cut by the European Central Bank and a sharp drop in U.S. jobless claims figures. Traders held off a big trades on Friday, however, as they waited for the U.S. jobs report, which is one of the calendar's biggest market-movers.

Economists expect the U.S. economy added about 140,000 jobs in April, slightly better than March's 88,000 gain but still much less than the figures reported over the winter. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain steady at 7.6 percent.

By midday in Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.2 percent at 6,475.93 while Germany's DAX was 0.3 percent higher at 7,982.51. France's CAC-40 rose 0.1 percent to 3,864.43.

Gains in Europe were limited somewhat by the European Union's downgrade of its economic forecasts. In its Spring update, the EU said it expected the 17-country eurozone's economy to shrink 0.4 percent this year, 0.1 percentage points worse than its February prediction.

It expects markedly weaker growth in Germany, the region's biggest economy, and a contraction in France, the second-largest. The fact that the economic slowdown is affecting the larger economies could push the ECB to cut interest rates again, or provide some new measures of support to credit markets in coming months.

On Wall Street, stocks were expected to trade sluggishly on the open. Dow Jones industrial futures were down almost 0.1 percent to 14,746 and S&P 500 futures were flat at 1,591.60.

Earlier, in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.1 percent to close at 22,689.96. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.4 percent to 1,965.71 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was nearly unchanged at 5,129.50.

Mainland Chinese stocks posted sharp gains, but that was likely due to bargain-hunting after a sharp fall the day before. The Shanghai Composite Index jumped 1.4 percent to 2,205.5 while the Shenzhen Composite Index gained 2 percent to 936.58.

Markets in Japan were closed for a public holiday.

In commodity markets, the benchmark oil contract for June delivery was up 47 cents to $94.46 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $2.96, or 3.3 percent, on Thursday, the biggest one-day gain for crude since November.

In currencies, the euro rose 0.5 percent to $1.3124, recovering only some of the sharp losses it incurred on Thursday after the ECB suggested it could cut interest rates again. The dollar rose 0.1 percent against the Japanese yen, to 98.06 yen.