(AP:LONDON) Markets were caught in the grip of inertia Thursday as trading levels sank in the traditional summer lull and investors opted to stay on the sidelines in the run-up to policy statements from the world's leading central banks.
Investors across the world have been fairly optimistic over recent weeks on hopes the world's central banks will do more to shore up the global economy.
While the European Central Bank is expected to restart its bond-buying program to keep a lid on the borrowing rates of Spain and Italy, the U.S. and Chinese monetary authorities are widely tipped to back more easing measures to boost their economies.
Weekly U.S. jobless claims and housing starts figures painted a mixed picture about the state of the world's largest economy, leaving investors unsure about what the Federal Reserve will do next month.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.3 percent at 5,813 while Germany's DAX was up 0.1 percent at 6,953. The CAC-40 in France was 0.2 percent higher at 3,454.
In the U.S., stocks fell modestly, with the Dow Jones industrial average 0.1 percent lower at 13,146 and the S&P 500 index down the same rate at 1,404.
Earlier, investors got a further hint of central bank action from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that Chinese monetary policy will be eased further in the coming months.
During a visit to eastern China earlier this week, Jiabao was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying the country has the "conditions and capabilities" to meet its 7.5 percent economic growth target this year.
That's raised expectations that the People's Bank of China would either lower the ratio of funds that banks must hold as reserves, known as the reserve requirement ratio, or lower interest rates. The bank so far this year has lowered both twice in an effort to boost lending and spur growth.
However, major announcements from any of the three central banks are not expected until the end of the month and without much of a steer, investors are more than happy to leave things as they are. That's certainly been the trend this week, the height of the summer holidays in many countries.
"In what can perhaps be seen as symptomatic of the fact so many people are on holiday right now, even talk from China hinting at more policy easing hasn't been sufficient to deliver the `shot in the arm' that it arguably warrants," said Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor.
It was equally quiet in other markets, with the euro up 0.3 percent at $1.2323 and the benchmark New York oil price 21 cents higher at $94.53 a barrel.
Earlier in Asia the day, stocks in Japan posted solid gains, with the Nikkei 225 index rose 1.9 percent to close at 9,092.76 _ its highest finish in six weeks. Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed lower after shedding morning gains, ending 0.5 percent lower at 19,962.95. South Korea's Kospi was slightly up at 1,957.91.
In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.3 percent to 2,112.20 while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.8 percent to 879.94.
By PAN PYLAS
AP Business Writer
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