A roundup of trading on major world markets:
NEW YORK - US stocks gave up early gains to end flat as consumer discretionary shares fell and investors showed caution ahead of the April jobs report.
Data on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, posting the biggest jump in more than a year.
Investors were anxiously awaiting Friday's US jobs data for April. Investors will comb through the report for any signs of how the labour market could influence the pace of rate hikes.
"Weekly jobless claims came in a bit higher than expected, and when you combine them with the ADP report from yesterday, that raises the possibility the national employment report tomorrow could be a bit on the softer side," said Michael Sheldon, chief investment officer at Northstar Wealth Partners in West Hartford, Connecticut.
The ADP private sector employment report showed hiring in April fell to its lowest in three years.
A Reuters survey ahead of Friday's report showed nonfarm payrolls likely rose by 202,000 last month, after rising 215,000 in March, while the unemployment rate is forecast to hold at 5 per cent.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 9.45 points, or 0.05 per cent, to 17,660.71, the S&P 500 lost 0.49 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 2,050.63 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 8.55 points, or 0.18 per cent, to 4,717.09.
LONDON/MILAN - European stock markets have steadied, buoyed by encouraging earning updates by firms including telecoms group BT and oil company Repsol.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index rebounded slightly to stand 0.2 per cent higher after falling 1.2 per cent in the previous session to its lowest level in almost a month.
The FTSEurofirst has lost around 10 per cent so far in 2016, hit - like other global stock markets - by worries about a slowdown in China, the world's second-biggest economy, and uncertainty over future US interest rate rises.
"Lower prices are starting to attract bargain hunters," said Markus Huber, a trader at City of London Markets Limited.
"However, overall sentiment remains negative as uncertainty concerning global growth, a potential US rate hike in the third quarter and disappointing corporate earnings continue to take a toll on markets," he added.
BT was one of the best-performing stocks in the region, rising 3.1 per cent after the phone group reported a better-than-expected 6 per cent rise in full-year earnings.
Firmer oil prices also lifted the shares of major oil producers, with Tullow Oil up 3.5 per cent.
HONG KONG - Asian shares failed to avoid a seventh day of falls but there was a feeling of relief that at least the yen looked to have settled following a searing run this month that has sent it to an 18-month high.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday that Japan would act if necessary to weaken the yen, while the dollar has been supported by data which has fanned optimism that the US
economy could bounce back after nearly stalling this year.
The seventh straight dip for Asian shares overnight followed mixed economic data that did nothing to assuage concerns about global growth.
The latest survey from China showed the service sector expanded at a slower pace in April, though firms did resume adding staff.
The Caixin/Markit services purchasing managers' index (PMI) dropped to 51.8, from 52.2 in March, but at least stayed in growth territory. Hong Kong's version of the PMI slid into a deeper contraction to touch an eight-month low.
The patchy outcomes left Shanghai stocks flat while trade across the region was stifled by a holiday in Japan.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.3 per cent, and has now shed 5 per cent in just two weeks.
WELLINGTON - The S&P/NZX 50 Index gained 51.99 points, or 0.76 per cent, to 6,876.48.