By PAN PYLAS, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Stock markets ran out of steam Friday after a closely watched U.S. survey of consumer confidence reinforced concerns over the impact of rising oil prices.
In its monthly survey, the University of Michigan said its main index of consumer confidence unexpectedly fell to 74.3 in March from 75.3 in February, in a sign that households may be getting increasingly cautious over the increase in gas prices at the pump.
Given that the U.S. consumer accounts for around 70 percent of the U.S. economy, the survey served to keep the recent optimism in check especially at a time when oil prices are elevated on concerns over Iran's nuclear program.
"This is another piece of evidence that supports the view that the economy is growing only modestly and that there are no signs of acceleration in the stars," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co.
In recent weeks, stocks have rallied on the combination of upbeat U.S. economic data and a more benign European debt backdrop despite some unease over the rise in the price of oil, which could cloud the investment picture by threatening the global recovery. Many of the world's major indexes are trading at multi-month highs. On Wall Street, the Standard & Poor's 500 index closed Thursday above 1,400 for the first time since May 2008.
But the consumer confidence figures acted to keep a lid on that optimism Friday.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.42 percent at 5,965 while the CAC-40 in France rose 0.41 percent to 3,594. Germany's DAX was 0.1 percent higher too at 7,157.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader S&P 500 were broadly flat at 13,252 and 1,404, respectively.
The euro was outperforming the dollar as the U.S. currency has garnered support in recent days from the run of strong U.S. data. The euro was trading 0.7 percent higher at $1.3175.
Rising oil prices are a growing concern in the markets as they stoke inflation worries as well as potentially derailing the recovery picture.
"There are concerns, however that this recovery in equity markets could start to stall and tail off if oil prices, the lifeblood of any economy, continue to rise at their current pace and kill off demand," said Michael Hewson, markets analyst at CMC Markets.
On Thursday, oil prices oscillated wildly, with the benchmark New York rate dropping around $3 a barrel at one stage on reports that the U.S. and Britain had agreed to release spare supplies of oil in an effort to drive fuel prices lower. However, White House press secretary Jay Carney said there was no plan to release supplies and oil prices recovered much of their losses and are currently trading around the $106 a barrel mark.
Earlier in Asia, Asian shares took a breather following a strong run earlier this week.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed slightly higher at 10,129.83 after morning profit-taking sent the benchmark into negative territory. The Nikkei has clocked a week of gains largely due to the yen's retreat from record highs against the dollar. The dollar was up a further 0.2 percent on the day at 83.73 yen.
Mainland Chinese shares advanced with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gaining 1.3 percent to 2,404.74. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.2 percent to 21,317.85 and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.5 percent to 2,034.44.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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