Global stock markets mostly rose after a forecast-busting US jobs report today offset gloomier data showing consumer confidence in the world's largest economy had slumped.
The Labor Department's report showed the economy added tens of thousands more jobs than anticipated and the unemployment rate fell from 7.9 per cent to 7.7 per cent, its lowest level since December 2008.
That suggests the economy is recovering steadily, though concerns remain over US politicians' ability to reach a budget deal to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," a mix of tax increases and spending cuts due to kick in next year.
Concern that a deal may not be reached in time appears to be weighing on consumer confidence — a University of Michigan index showed it fell sharply in December to a four-month low.
By midafternoon in Europe, France's CAC-40 was up 0.2 per cent to 3,608, while Britain's FTSE 100 climbed the same rate to 5,910. Only Germany's DAX slipped — 0.2 per cent to 7,523 — on the back of weak industrial production figures and a downbeat economic forecast from the country's central bank.
Major American indexes rose on the open before the consumer confidence figures sapped their strength. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.2 per cent at 13,098, while the S&P 500 was flat at 1,414.
Developments in the US budget talks have steered markets in recent weeks and are likely to do so until the end of the year, by which time a deal is expected to be reached.
"It seems investors are also cautious about taking on too much risk ahead of the weekend as the markets have still not heard much news on US policy officials' progress regarding the fiscal cliff," said Shavaz Dhalla, a trader with Spreadex.
Earlier, many Asian stocks also struggled to find a direction. After opening higher, Japan's Nikkei 225 index ended the day 0.2 per cent down at 9,527.39. South Korea's Kospi added 0.4 per cent to 1,957.45. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.9 per cent to 4,551.80. Hong Kong's Hang Seng reversed course and closed down 0.3 per cent to 22,191.17.
Mainland Chinese shares posted substantial gains after recent sharp sell-offs. The Shanghai Composite Index climbed 1.6 per cent to 2,061.79. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index jumped 2.1 per cent to 786.05.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 25 cents to $86.51 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The euro fell 0.5 percent to $1.2902.