Stocks Fluctuate Amid China Data, US Budget Falks
World markets were cautious on Friday as concerns over ongoing U.S. budget talks offset the impact of survey showing China's manufacturing production rose to a 14-month high.
European markets struggled after Standard & Poor's lowered its credit outlook on Britain, meaning there is a one in three chance the country could lose its top credit rating over the next year.
Fitch, another credit ratings agency, affirmed France's own top grade but also kept its negative outlook. It said there was a "slightly greater than 50 percent chance of a downgrade" next year.
By early afternoon in Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 was down 0.2 percent to 5,918.40 while Germany's DAX rose 0.1 percent to 7,587.15. France's CAC-40 was flat at 3,635.38.
Investors largely shrugged off agreements reached Thursday by European Union finance ministers: a compromise to create a single supervisor for banks and an agreement to give Greece desperately needed bailout funds. The decisions, while important to end the continent's crisis, had been expected.
Wall Street was steady after the open - the Dow was up 0.1 percent to 13,178.83 while the S&P 500 fell 0.1 percent to 1,417.61.
Asian indexes rose earlier Friday, when HSBC Corp. released its preliminary China Purchasing Managers' Index for December, which rose to 50.9 from November's 50.5. Numbers above 50 represent an expansion of manufacturing.
The improvement in Chinese manufacturing activity suggests global consumer spending may be recovery from a weak patch this year.
"I think it adds further encouragement that China is moving in the right direction," said Andrew Sullivan, an independent analyst based in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, investors are keeping a close eye on unresolved budget negotiations in Washington between President Barack Obama and key Republican lawmakers.
A deal must be reached by the end of the year to avoid what has been dubbed the "fiscal cliff" - hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts and tax increases that could plunge the world's largest economy back into recession.
In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.7 percent to 22,605.9. Mainland Chinese shares posted sharp gains, with the Shanghai Composite Index surging 4.3 percent to 2,150.63 on the back of the manufacturing data. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index shot up 4.2 percent to 816.19.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index sank slightly following the release of a Bank of Japan survey which showed large Japanese manufacturers are more pessimistic about business conditions. The "tankan" index for the December quarter dropped from September's minus three to minus 12, much worse than expected.
The benchmark in Tokyo fell 0.1 percent to close at 9,737.56, a day after closing at an eight-month high.
South Korea's Kospi fell 0.4 percent to 1,995.04. Benchmarks in Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan also fell. Australia's S&P/ASX was nearly unchanged at 4,583.10.
Benchmark crude was up 31 cents to $86.20 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 88 cents to end at $85.89 per barrel in New York on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3095 from $1.3075 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell against the Japanese yen, to 83.44 yen from 83.58 yen.