Traders are fixing their eyes on the US jobs report due at the end of the week / © AFP
Global stock markets diverged Thursday on the eve of key US jobs data, as oil prices rebounded slightly from five-month lows.
Tokyo's stocks index was by far the biggest faller among major indices, closing down nearly two percent as the yen surged against the dollar, which makes Japanese exports more expensive.
Most other Asian markets ended lower and Europe's main exchanges dipped.
On Wall Street, the Dow was flat in morning trading while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq rose.
"There isn't a lot of conviction on the part of buyers and there isn't a lot of conviction on the part of sellers," said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare.
"Accordingly, the market is churning, waiting it seems for a new catalyst to give it some new direction for either a breakout or a breakdown," he said.
All eyes were on Friday's US jobs report to confirm a gentle slowdown in the economy that would allow the US Federal Reserve to cut interest rates early next year.
After global equities rallied in November on optimism that the Fed would begin to pare back interest rates early next year, markets have pulled back on concerns the buying was overdone.
Data released this week on US job openings and from the private payroll firm ADP reinforced the view that the labour market and economy were slowing as inflation comes down. Jobless benefits claims data held steady.
"The slowdown in hiring continues and is becoming more obvious," said Peter Boockvar, author of the Boock Report.
"What I'm mostly focused on right now is the trajectory of activity -- and all I see is slowing in multiple places, including now the labour market."
Traders on Thursday were unimpressed with a better-than-forecast rise in Chinese exports, as data also showed that imports fell unexpectedly, highlighting the continued weakness in the struggling economy.
The yen strengthened more than 1.5 percent against the dollar on speculation the Bank of Japan (BoJ) could announce a shift away from its ultra-loose monetary policy at a meeting this month.
The Japanese currency has tumbled for much of the year owing to the BoJ's refusal to budge, but officials are shifting their positions as inflation rises.
Oil prices climbed but made little headway after falling nearly four percent on Wednesday, which pulled the US benchmark West Texas Intermediate below $70 for the first time since July.
Data pointing to a jump in US petrol stockpiles compounded demand worries as economies slow, while traders remain sceptical that Saudi Arabia and its allies will stick to deep output cuts.
Analysts have begun to consider the possibility that Riyadh could abruptly reopen the taps to maintain market share, similar to a move in 2014 to counter rising US production.
- Key figures around 1630 GMT -
New York - Dow: DOWN less than 0.1 percent at 36,035.94 points
London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,513.72 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,428.52 (close)
Frankfurt - DAX: DOWN 0.2 percent at 16,628.99 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.2 percent at 4,473.77 (close)
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.8 percent at 32,858.31 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.7 percent at 16,345.89 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 2,966.21 (close)
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 144.17 yen from 147.35 yen on Wednesday
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0790 from $1.0768
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2572 from $1.2559
Euro/pound: UP at 85.81 pence from 85.71 pence
West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.2 percent at $69.54 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.1 percent at $74.39 per barrel