NEW YORK World stock markets mostly edged higher on Wednesday after recent losses as economic data gave a mixed picture on global growth and the yen neared two-month highs.
Investors seeking safe-haven currencies lifted the yen against both the dollar and euro, while U.S. stocks extended their recent slide that investors speculate could be part of a long-awaited correction.
In the United States, a weaker-than-expected U.S. private jobs report was offset by services sector data showing a pickup in growth. Overseas, disappointing euro zone Christmas retail sales took the gloss off the best PMI figures for the region in two and a half years.
Markets have been volatile in recent weeks, with stocks selling off on concerns about demand and turmoil in emerging market currencies. Relative calm in the markets of vulnerable emerging nations Turkey, South Africa and Russia helped to offset some of the recent jitters.
"Today's (data) almost just added to the confusion, or added to the indecision, as to what exactly should we believe," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati.
On Wall Street, trading was volatile. The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index hit a session low of 1,737.92, marking its lowest level since October 18, before rebounding to climb briefly into positive territory with a session high of 1,755.79.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended 5.01 points, or 0.03 percent, lower at 15,440.23, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 3.56 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,751.64 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 19.968 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,011.552.
A global equity index .MIWD00000PUS was up 0.1 percent after falling 1.8 percent in the previous two sessions, while an index of European shares .FTEU3 ended 0.1 percent higher.
MSCI's emerging markets index .MSCIEF was down just 0.1 percent after falling 2 percent in the previous two sessions.
"It will be a buying opportunity when investors feel comfortable this rout we're in is over," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont. "I don't think they want to step in front of it just yet until they have a feeling of where the bottom is going to be. We're not there yet."
Two private surveys showed an uptick in U.S. growth in January. The Institute for Supply Management said growth picked up in the dominant U.S. service sector in January, with steady strength in private-sector hiring, while Markit's report on service-sector activity showed growth quickened to a four-month high in January and hiring remained robust.
Separately, the ADP National Employment Report showed U.S. private employers added 175,000 jobs in January, just shy of analysts' expectations. The report precedes the highly anticipated U.S. monthly payrolls data on Friday.
In the foreign exchange market, the greenback was last 0.3 percent lower at 101.37 yen and the euro was down 0.2 percent to 137.16 yen after hitting a session low 136.51 yen.
The dollar also edged down against the euro as traders awaited the outcome of Thursday's European Central Bank policy meeting and whether policymakers would consider further stimulus to help a still fragile euro zone economy. The euro was up slightly at $1.3534.
U.S. Treasuries yields rose on caution before Friday's U.S. payrolls number. Friday's report is under close attention after weakness in some recent data raised fears over the strength of the U.S. recovery.
As investors have poured out of emerging market assets and stocks, they have pushed Treasuries yields to three-month lows.
Benchmark 10-year Treasuries prices fell 13/32, and yields were last at 2.67 percent, after falling from more than 3 percent at the beginning of the year.
The yield decline "is a huge move in that short a time, since the underlying economic fundamentals haven't deteriorated that much. The buying definitely got a bit overheated," said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.
GOLD, OIL PRICES FIRM
Spot gold was well off the day's highs after the mixed U.S. data left investors uncertain over the pace of the U.S. recovery. It was last up 0.3 percent to $1,258.46 an ounce, having earlier risen as much as 1.5 percent to $1,273.26.
Oil prices edged higher. A U.S. industry report showed lower inventories and robust heating fuel demand due to cold weather in the United States.
The American Petroleum Institute's report on Tuesday showed crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, hub fell by 1.6 million barrels last week and distillates by 1.5 million barrels. Distillates include heating oil.
Brent crude rose 47 cents to $106.25 per barrel after three straight sessions of losses. U.S. crude rose 19 cents to settle at $97.38.