Asia stocks lower ahead of jobs data; Europe gains

HONG KONG: Most Asian stock markets fell Wednesday as investors pared bets ahead of a key U.S. jobs report on Friday and the Easter long weekend. European shares rose in early trading.

The lackluster trading in Asia followed gains the day before. The dollar weakened against the euro and strengthened against the yen, while oil prices traded above $82 a barrel.

A modest advance on Wall Street overnight did little to help Asia. The mood in the U.S. was upbeat after a report showed consumer confidence surged in March — a sign debt-laden American households might be willing to spend more money, helping drive economic growth in the U.S. and in Asia.

Still, the report wasn't all rosy, suggesting many consumers were still hesitant to splurge on cars and other big purchases, analysts said.

"Consumer confidence continues to be off crisis lows, but remains weak and demand for large-ticket consumer items is unlikely to provide much impetus to GDP growth in the near term," Dariusz Kowalczyk, chief investment strategist for SJS Markets in Hong Kong, wrote in a research note.

Early in Europe, major benchmarks in Britain, Germany and France were higher by about 0.4 percent or less. Wall Street futures augured a lower open in the U.S. Wednesday.

In Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average was down 7.20 points, or less than 0.1 percent, at 11,089.94. Wednesday also marks the last day of Japan's fiscal calendar year.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 135.44, or 0.6 percent, at 21,239.35, and South Korea's index fell less than 0.5 percent to 1,692.85.

Elsewhere, Australia's benchmark dropped 0.8 percent and China's Shanghai index was off 0.6 percent. Markets in India, Taiwan and Singapore also fell.

Investors were cautious ahead of major U.S. employment data, to be issued by the government Friday, that will provide a reading on the strength of world's largest economy. The report is expected to show employers added 190,000 jobs in March. That would be only the second increase since the recession began in late 2007.

Benchmark crude for May delivery was up 20 cents at $82.57 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 20 cents to settle at $82.37 on Tuesday.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 93.21 yen from 92.82 yen late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.3437 from $1.3414.

Overnight in New York, the Dow Jones industrials added 0.1 percent to 10,907.42. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose less than 0.1 percent to 1,173.27, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 0.3 percent to 2,410.69.