LONDON (AP) — Stocks drifted lower as the half-year came to an uninspiring climax Friday following a month of volatility that pushed many of the world's major stock indexes down from multi-year and record highs.
The coincidence of the end to the month, quarter and half year often prompts some volatility in trading, as investors try to make their portfolios look better for financial reports.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.45 percent at 6,215 while Germany's DAX fell 0.38 percent to 7,959. The CAC-40 in France was 0.62 percent lower at 3,738.
In midday trading in the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.4 percent at 14,962 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.26 percent to 1,609.
Friday's performance stood in marked contrast with much of what has taken place this week. The prevailing market mood has been calm, certainly compared with much of the last month — the Dow for example has had 15 triple digit days in June alone.
The calmer backdrop has been due to a number of factors, including solid U.S. economic data and a seeming attempt by the U.S. Federal Reserve to ease investor concerns over the pace of any reduction in its monetary stimulus — Fed officials appear to be trying to calm investor jitters over an upcoming reduction in the financial assets the central bank buys every month to help the economy. The so-called tapering of the purchases raised fears because the stimulus has been one of the drivers for stocks over recent years.
Given that there is continued uncertainty over the future of U.S. monetary policy, few in the markets think the recent calmer backdrop means the end to the volatility.
"The gains seen over the last few days have been more about traders seeking bargains rather than genuine optimism," said Max Cohen, a trader at Spreadex.
Earlier in Asia, investors were cheered by upbeat Japanese economic news — industrial production rose 2 percent in May while, perhaps more importantly, the consumer price index stopped falling for the first time in seven months. That's important as the Bank of Japan is engaged on a massive monetary stimulus to get prices rising again after a near two-decade period of deflation.
The news gave Japan's main stock index, the Nikkei 225 index, a big lift as it finished 3.5 percent higher at 13,677.32.
The Nikkei's gains fed through across Asia. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 1.8 percent to 20,803.29 while mainland Chinese shares also rose as fears eased of a credit crunch in China. The Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.5 percent to 1,979.21, while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index edged up less than 0.1 percent to 887.68.
The central bank had allowed rates that banks pay to borrow from each other to soar last week, part of an attempt to clamp down on massive credit in the informal lending industry. Later, however, Chinese policymakers softened their stance with the promise to provide "liquidity support" if needed.
In currency markets, the dollar has been making further gains against the yen, trading up 0.97 percent at 99.29 yen on Friday. The euro was slightly down, 0.24 percent, at $1.3002.
Oil prices were steady too with the benchmark rate up 5 cents at $97.10 a barrel.