BANGKOK – World stock markets meandered Friday, as a spike in unemployment in Spain intensified worries about Europe’s debt crisis and put a crimp in optimism generated by positive U.S. housing data.
Already burdened with the highest unemployment rate among countries that use the euro, Spain got more bad news Friday when the government released figures showing joblessness moving past 24 percent. That magnified worries that the government could be forced into seeking a financial rescue as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have done.
The difference is that Spain’s economy is double the size of the three countries that have already been bailed out. The other euro countries would struggle to muster enough money to rescue it.
In early European trading, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent to 5,769.11 and Germany’s DAX rose 0.2 percent to 6,750.78. In Paris, the CAC-40 was up 0.5 percent at 3,244.82.
Wall Street headed for a mixed opening, with Dow Jones industrial futures slipping marginally to 13,159 while the S&P 500 futures fell 0.1 percent to 1,397.70.
Key Asian benchmarks gave up early gains to close lower. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 0.4 percent to close at 9,520.89 after briefly jumping 1 percent after the Bank of Japan said it will expand its asset-buying program to help support the economy.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.3 percent to 20,741.45. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia also fell.
In mainland China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.4 percent to 2,396.32 and the Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.3 percent to 940.35.
Peoplecn Co., the online portal of the Communist Party’s newspaper People’s Daily, gained 73.6 percent on its first trading day. However, Li Jianfeng, an analyst at Caida Securities in Shanghai, said the shares might face pressure from profit-taking in coming days.
China’s markets will be closed Monday and Tuesday for May Day public holidays.
South Korea’s Kospi was the rare gainer in Asia, rising 0.6 percent to 1,975.35.
U.S. stocks edged higher Thursday, after the National Association of Realtors said that pending home sales rose to the highest level in nearly two years. That’s a sign that the U.S. housing market is slowly improving.
Still, enthusiasm was held in check by government data showing the number of applications for unemployment was little changed from the previous week, a sign that hiring will likely remain modest.
Further headwinds emanated out of Europe on Friday, when official figures showed Spain’s unemployment rate spiking to 24.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012 from 22.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.
More pain came Thursday from Standard & Poor’s, which lowered Spain’s long-term credit rating by two notches, saying the country’s budget problems are likely to get worse because of its weak economy.
Elsewhere, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3 percent to 4,362.10 amid signs of a weakening consumer market. Retailers JB Hi-Fi fell 6.3 percent and Harvey Norman Holdings lost 2.4 percent.
PetroChina, China’s biggest oil and gas company, jumped 3 percent in Hong Kong after reporting its first quarter net profit rose 5.8 percent.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chip maker, said Thursday its quarterly earnings fell 7.7 percent but predicted solid growth for the year. Shares rose 2.4 percent.
Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 47 cents to $104.08 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 43 cents to settle at $104.55 in New York on Thursday
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3186 from $1.3239 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was unchanged at 80.92 yen.
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AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.