Markets drift as investors monitor China

LONDON (AP) — Markets were lackluster Thursday as investors waited to see if a run of weak Chinese economic data may prompt the country's monetary authorities to enact stimulus measures.

Over the past few days, the mood across financial markets has improved as the tensions in Ukraine have eased and investors have priced in the prospect of more stimulus in China. Solid U.S. economic figures have also eased concerns over the world's number 1 economy.

Reports released Thursday did little to alter the view that the U.S. economy is witnessing a solid recovery. Most notably, the Commerce Department said it grew at a 2.6 percent annualized rate in the October-December quarter, slightly more than previously estimated, as consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in three years. The rise was slightly more than the previous 2.4 percent estimate. In a separate report, the government said the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 last week to 311,000, the lowest since late November.

The figures failed to provide markets with much direction.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.3 percent at 6,588.32 while Germany's DAX ended flat at 9,451.21. The CAC-40 in France fell 0.1 percent to 4,379.06.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.1 percent at 16,253 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.3 percent to 1,847. The main focus in the U.S. was Citigroup, which saw its share price fall 6 percent after the Federal Reserve denied the bank's proposal to raise its dividend and buy back more stock.

Citigroup was one of only five banks which had their capital plan rejected. Other banks such as Wells Fargo rose after the Federal Reserve approved those banks' plans to increase their dividends and buy back additional shares.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei gained 1 percent to 14,622.89 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.2 percent to 21,834.45. China's Shanghai Composite fell 0.8 percent to 2,046.59.

Elsewhere, a barrel of benchmark New York oil was up 1.1 percent at $101.54. Among currencies, the euro was down 0.3 percent at $1.3743 while the dollar rose 0.1 percent to 102.14 yen.