LONDON - Global stock markets drifted lower Thursday as investors looked past some fairly dovish remarks from the head of the European Central Bank and awaited a slew of comments from Federal Reserve officials, notably those of Fed Chair Janet Yellen.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.6 percent at 6,261 while Germany's DAX fell 0.5 percent to 10,852. The CAC-40 in France was 0.9 percent lower at 4,910.
U.S. stocks were poised for a lackluster opening, with Dow futures down 0.1 percent and broader S&P 500 futures unchanged.
The downbeat performance in Europe came despite a further indication from ECB President Mario Draghi that the bank is ready to back a further stimulus for the ailing eurozone economy and its next policy meeting next month. More interest appears to be on upcoming remarks from Yellen in light of last week's forecast-busting U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for October. The Fed chair is scheduled to speak at a monetary policy conference in Washington D.C. on Thursday.
The markets are now pricing in a Fed rate hike in December which would be its first in more than nine years. The worry for many investors is that the Fed may start to point to further rate hikes in the months ahead. Super-low U.S. interest rates have been one of the main reasons behind the stock market boom of the past few years following the global financial crisis.
"It is now up to the Fed to manage expectations in the coming months and to constantly reassure markets that rate hikes will be gradual, as it has repeatedly stressed until now but clearly the markets are beginning to doubt," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.
The euro was under pressure in light of the dichotomy between the central banks in Europe and the U.S. Europe's single currency was 0.5 percent lower at $1.0713.
Investors were also digesting the latest round of economic data from across Asia. In Australia the jobless rate fell to 5.9 percent in October, a bigger than expected decline and the lowest level since May. In Japan machinery orders, which are seen as a measure of business investment, recorded their first gain in four months, according to Kyodo News. That follows a mixed batch of Chinese data released the day before that showed retail sales growth edged up in October while factory output and investment weakened, which may reduce the pressure on Beijing to take further action to stimulate the world's No. 2 economy.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index edged up less than 0.1 percent to close at 19,697.7 while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.2 percent to end at 1,993.36. Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 2.4 percent to 22,888.92 while the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China sank 0.5 percent to 3,632.90. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose less than 0.1 percent to 5,125.70.
U.S. benchmark crude futures fell again, trading 23 cents lower at $42.70 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slid $1.28, or 3 percent, to settle at $42.93 a barrel on Wednesday after the American Petroleum Institute reported a big supply buildup, with supplies growing by 6.3 million barrels, far more than analysts expected. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell 23 cents to $45.58 a barrel in London.