Markets remain solid as focus turns to Draghi

PAN PYLAS
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A man looks at an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Thursday, March 6, 2014. Shares were mostly higher in Asia on Thursday as the standoff over Ukraine between Russia and the West continued to ease and the yen weakened. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

LONDON (AP) — The mood in markets continued to stabilize Thursday as tensions in Ukraine eased and the European Central Bank kept policy unchanged amid signs the economy is improving.

Though European leaders were mulling whether to impose sanctions on Russia in protest of its takeover of the Crimean Peninsula, investors were turning their focus to more bread and butter economic issues.

Following the expected decision of the ECB to keep policy unchanged, investors will be monitoring the upcoming press briefing of its president, Mario Draghi.

"As always, traders will be hanging on to every word that comes out of Draghi's mouth, which tends to create some very volatile markets," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari.

Ahead of Draghi's briefing, stocks continued to recover their poise following Monday's wipeout, when concerns of a war between Ukraine and Russia were at their height.

In Europe, Germany's DAX rose 0.2 percent to 9,564. The CAC-40 in France was 0.6 percent higher at 4,418. Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.3 percent at 6,793 after the Bank of England kept its main interest rate unchanged at 0.5 percent, five years on from its decision to cut to the historic low rate.

Wall Street was poised for a solid opening with both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures up 0.2 percent. The focus in the U.S. will likely center on the next batch of economic data, including weekly jobless claims, a day ahead of the February nonfarm payrolls report. The payrolls data often set the market mood for a week or two.

Beyond stocks, the dollar's near-term fortunes could also lie on the payrolls data as traders assess whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will continue to reduce its monetary stimulus at the pace already set. The euro was up 0.2 percent at $1.3759.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average rose 1.6 percent to 15,134.75 as the dollar headed back toward 103 yen after dropping in previous days on safe-haven buying of the Japanese currency. However, the yen appreciated through the European session and the dollar was up only 0.3 percent at 102.68 yen.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.6 percent at 22,702.97 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.2 percent to 1,975.62.

Shanghai's benchmark climbed 0.3 percent to 2,059.58 as China's Finance Minister Lou Jiwei, speaking on the sidelines of the national legislative session, said the government could tolerate growth less than 7.5 percent this year provided sufficient new jobs are created.

Assets, like oil and gold, which were bid up sharply on Monday, continued to drift lower too. A barrel of benchmark New York crude was down 0.5 percent at $100.92 while an ounce of gold fell 0.5 percent to $1,334.

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Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this report.