World stocks faltered Friday as China's manufacturing weakened and the latest Fed minutes reminded investors that U.S. interest rates are likely to rise next year.
In early European trading, France's CAC 40 dropped 0.7 percent to 4,235.35 and Germany's DAX shed 0.5 percent to 9,424.14. Britain's FTSE 100 was off 0.4 percent at 6,667.14. Futures pointed to losses on Wall Street. Dow and S&P 500 futures were both down 0.4 percent.
Manufacturing activity in China fell to a six-month low in November, reflecting sluggishness in the world No. 2 economy and weakness abroad, according to the preliminary version of HSBC's factory survey. The survey comes days after an official report showed that property prices softened in October in all but one of 70 cities tracked across China, falling 2.6 percent overall. Real estate had been a prime driver of China's blistering economic growth in previous years but recent weakness in prices suggests economic growth will continue to slip.
The manufacturing data shows how "choppy" China's economy is at present, said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. "Investors will have to exercise extreme caution and patience" before diving back into mining stocks which have weakened as China's economic growth wanes. "Waiting for a sustained recovery before buying stocks is always a better strategy than buying before knowing just how low they will trade."
The minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve's last policy meeting released Wednesday showed that the Fed decided not to alter its wording on the timing of any interest rate increases. Fed officials worried that a change could be misinterpreted by financial markets. Most economists predict that the Fed won't raise rates before June. "Investors feel the Fed is continuing to pave the path toward tightening" of monetary policy, said IG's Shamu.
Japan's Nikkei 225 inched up 0.1 percent to 17,300.86 while South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.5 percent to 1,958.04. China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.1 percent to 2,452.66 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 1 percent to 5,316.20. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.1 percent to 23,349.64. Markets in Southeast Asia also fell.
Benchmark U.S. crude was little changed as hopes for an OPEC production cut offset an Energy Department report showing that crude inventories increased far more than expected last week. The front-month contract was up 7 cents at $74.57 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped 3 cents to close at $74.58 on Wednesday.
The yen continued its slide amid unprecedented Bank of Japan monetary stimulus. The dollar was at 118.46 yen from 118.02 yen late Wednesday. The euro slipped to $1.2516 from $1.2545.