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World markets end lower ahead of key US jobs data

World markets end lower ahead of key US jobs data

World stocks closed modestly lower Thursday, despite hefty interest rate cuts across Europe, as Wall Street retreated in the face of fresh grim corporate and economic news and Friday's November jobs report.
Argentina was one of the few markets ending on the upside after the government there announced it will use billions of dollars of newly nationalized pension fund assets to spur the local economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 215.45 points, or 2.51 percent, to 8,376.24 as investors turned cautious late in the session. Trading volatile amid disappointing retail sales data, big job cuts at AT&T Inc. and DuPont Co., and unease ahead of the U.S. non-farm payrolls report.
The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 6.35 points, or 0.2 percent, at 4,163.61, while Germany's DAX finished 3.01 points lower at 4,564.23. The CAC-40 in France ended 5.49 points, or 0.2 percent, lower at 3,161.16.
Europe's indexes oscillated throughout the day. Earlier, the three leading European indexes were sharply higher as the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and Sweden's Riksbank all cut interest rates aggressively, but Wall Street's losses saw them pare those gains.
The markets' focus has shifted to the U.S. jobs report. The consensus among economists is that employers reduced jobs by 320,000 during the month of November, but some analysts are now forecasting that it could be as high as 400,000.
Worries about the global economy continued to haunt stock markets, even though central banks in Europe cut their interest rates aggressively.
While the Bank of England slashed its benchmark rate by a full percentage point to a 57-year low of 2.00 percent, the European Central Bank cut its key rate by 0.75 percentage points to 2.50 percent. Sweden's Riksbank outdid them both with a staggering 1.75 percent reduction, which took its main interest rate to 2.00 percent.
"Any beneficial effect from lower borrowing costs is offset by the feeling that the economic situation is not going to turn around any time soon," said Neil Mackinnon, chief economist at ECU Group.
Investors were also nervous about the fate of the U.S. automakers trying to persuade skeptical lawmakers to save their troubled industry with $34 billion in emergency aid.
In Latin America, Buenos Aires' Merval index jumped 2.8 percent to close at 998 after Argentina's said it plans to issue $3.9 billion in low-cost loans from newly nationalized pension fund assets to farmers, industry and automakers. President Cristina Fernandez said the measures are aimed at boosting production and easing credit amid the global economic downturn.
Business leaders reacted cautiously, calling the stimulus plan a step in the right direction.
"The measure is trying to reactivate the economy in two ways: credit for consumers and credit for production," said Jorge Brito, head of the Argentine Bank Association, which represents the country's largest banks. "It's a positive move."
Elsewhere in the region, the Bovespa index in neighboring Brazil closed down 0.5 percent at 35,128, while Mexico's IPC index shed 1.2 percent to 19,916. The IPSA index in Chile ended off about 2 points at 2,302.
Earlier, Asian stocks were mixed at the close, with Japan's Nikkei 225 average down 79.86 points, or 1 percent, to 7,924.24, as automakers continued to slide amid signs of slumping demand for new vehicles in the United States, and Toyota said it was briefly suspending production at three plants in Japan later this month.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dipped 0.6 percent to 13,509 points, but mainland China's Shanghai Composite index rose 1.8 percent to 2,001.5 on news that a government fund had bought shares in a major bank.
Markets in India, Singapore and Indonesia rose, but those in Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia fell.
Pessimism about the global economy helped drive light sweet crude down nearly 7 percent, or $3.12, to settle at $43.67 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The dollar, meanwhile, gave up early gains, dropping against the European currencies and the yen after interest-rate cuts in Europe came in line with expectations.
The euro rose to $1.2793 in late New York trading from $1.2655 late Wednesday. The British pound climbed to $1.4748 from $1.4722. Before the rate announcements, the pound touched a fresh 6 1/2 year low at $1.4467; the euro had fallen as low as $1.2548.
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Associated Press business writers Sara Lepro in New York and Stephen Wright in Bangkok contributed to this report.