Renewed jitters over when the U.S. Federal Reserve will start reducing its monetary stimulus kept markets in check Thursday.
The catalyst to the caution was the publication Wednesday of the minutes to the last Fed policy meeting.
The minutes showed that the central bank would likely start tapering off its bond purchases in “coming months” if the job market improved further. Fed members also weighed the possibility of slowing the $85 billion worth of monthly purchases even without clear evidence of a strengthening job market.
The Fed’s stimulus, in its various guises, has helped shore up risky assets such as stocks and emerging market currencies over the past few years as the money created was recycled through financial markets.
The release of the minutes prompted a retreat on Wall Street and that negative finish largely dominated trading in Asia and Europe on Thursday.
“Barring some untoward data in the intervening period, they will embark on the tapering path, quite possibly in December, but at the very latest in January,” said Marc Ostwald, market strategist at Monument Securities.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 6,681 while Germany’s DAX lost 0.4 percent to 9,170. The CAC-40 in France shed 0.5 percent to 4,248.
Futures suggested a modest recovery on Wall Street, with Dow futures and S&P 500 futures up 0.2 percent.
Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.5 percent to 23,580.29 and China’s Shanghai Composite eased 0.04 percent to 2,205.77. Seoul’s Kospi was down 1.2 percent to 1,993.78 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 retreated 0.4 percent to 5,288.32.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 bucked the trend to rise 1.9 percent to 15,365.60, boosted by a weaker yen, which helps the competiveness of the country’s exporters. The dollar was up 0.6 percent at 100.76 yen.
The euro, meanwhile, was up 0.3 percent at $1.3466 even though a closely watched survey pointed to a waning economic recovery in the 17-country eurozone.
Financial information company Markit said its purchasing managers’ index — a gauge of business activity — fell in November to a three-month low of 51.5 points from 51.9 the previous month. The fall was unexpected — most economists had been predicting a modest rise to around 52.
Even though the index remained above the 50 mark that indicates expansion for the fifth month running, the decline adds to the recent evidence suggesting that the eurozone recovery is not gaining traction.
“These figures just go to show that the eurozone recovery is not going to be straight forward from here,” said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari.