Wall Street was mixed overnight as investors by and large chose to remain on the sidelines in anticipation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's address to a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the end of the week.
Economic indicators pointed to further weakness as confidence of the all-important American consumer dropped more than expected. The Conference Board's index slid to 60.6 from a revised 65.4 in July, the biggest drop since October. The reading was less than the most-pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey in which the median projection was 66.
Still, the real estate market provided some good news as a separate report showed home prices in 20 American cities rose in the 12 months ended in June, the first year-over-year increase in nearly two years. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values increased 0.5 per cent from a year earlier.
In late afternoon trading in New York, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index eked out a 0.10 per cent gain while the Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.20 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.05 per cent.
"A mixed bag of economic indicators that sort of point downward; we are all hopeful this leaves some room for the Fed to shower money on us," Jack Ablin, chief investment officer, Harris Private Bank in Chicago, told Reuters. "Unfortunately a fair amount of stimulus is probably priced in, so we are at a period now where bad news is good news until we hear what [Bernanke] is actually going to do."
Companies addressing the economic uncertainty with cost cuts tend to be applauded for their moves. So it was for Lexmark International, which said it will cut 1,700 jobs and stop making inkjet printers. The stock was last up 17 per cent.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the session with 0.7 per cent slide from the previous close. Benchmark indexes in Germany, France and the UK all ended lower.
The skies are darkening in Spain, as the debt-laden country sank further into recession in the second quarter. That re-fuelled expectations it will be the next euro-zone country that will have to ask for full-blown international financial assistance, following in the footsteps of Ireland, Greece and Portugal.
Spain has already secured as much as 100 billion euros of support for its banks, now crumbling further under an increasing amount of withdrawals by concerned private and corporate customers.
Martin van Vliet, an economist at ING, told Reuters he expects Spain to formally request additional external financing in mid-September or October.
Over in Japan, the government lowered its assessment for the economy, citing easing of growth in the US and China as well as Europe's troubles.
"Europe's debt crisis is having the effect of a body blow to Japan's economy," Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief economist at Itochu in Tokyo, told Bloomberg.
"Concerns over Japan's economic outlook will probably build pressure on the [Bank of Japan] to apply more monetary stimulus," according to Maruyama, who said the central bank could move in October.