By David Gaffen and Richard Leong
NEW YORK (Reuters) - World markets were calm on Wednesday after two days of wild swings, with the United States and Russia set to hold talks on easing East-West tension in Ukraine.
An index of global equity markets clung to a slim 0.1 percent gain, currency and bond markets stabilized, and oil prices fell for a second day as the West stepped up efforts to persuade Moscow to withdraw its forces in Crimea and avert the risk of war. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that military force would be used only as a last resort.
Investors, while awaiting developments between Russia and the West, turned their focus to what the European Central Bank might to do at its policy meeting on Thursday to support the region's fragile economy and to the U.S. government's latest job snapshot due on Friday.
"The market is generally sideways until Friday's jobs report," said David Molnar, managing director at HighTower San Diego
Wall Street shares finished little changed, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index finished just a hair below its record closing high set on Tuesday.
Softer-than-expected jobs data from U.S. payroll processor ADP nicked optimism over Friday's U.S. non-farm payrolls figures. A separate private-industry gauge of U.S. service sector activity fell to its weakest level in four years in February, though it still pointed to expansion in the sector. Investors seemed to chalk up the weakness overall to the weather, in line with recent reactions to other disappointing economic data.
The Federal Reserve's Beige Book, an anecdotal report of business activity across the United States, said that harsh winter weather across much of the country in January and February restrained consumer spending and business activities, leading to slower growth or outright contraction in some areas.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 35.7 points, or 0.22 percent, to 16,360.18, the S&P 500 lost 0.1 point, or 0.01 percent, to 1,873.81, and the Nasdaq Composite added 6.002 points, or 0.14 percent, to 4,357.974.
A measure of European shares, which surged more than 2 percent on Tuesday to spur a global rebound, ended down 0.06 percent at 1,343.99.
In Asia, Tokyo's Nikkei climbed 1.2 percent.
Russian stocks and the rouble fought off early weakness as investors decided Moscow was dialing down the intensity of its rhetoric over Ukraine.
Putin said he did not want political tension to detract from economic cooperation with Russia's "traditional partners."
The calmer geopolitical view kept the yen under pressure after a heavy reversal on Tuesday. The dollar was last at 102.31 yen, moving away from a one-month low of 101.20 yen hit on Monday.
The relative calm in Crimea, following Russia's intervention this past weekend, allowed attention in Europe to drift back toward Thursday's meeting of the ECB.
The euro edged down 0.1 percent to $1.3731 overnight and held firm versus the yen at 140.48 yen. The German bond market's general safe-haven appeal waned, sending 10-year Bund yields up to 1.61 percent.
ECB policymakers remain under pressure either to cut interest rates again or use additional unconventional measures to fend off the threat of ultra-low inflation turning into something more damaging.
Analysts at Citi said in a note that their base-case expectation was that the ECB would cut rates by 15 basis points to 0.10 percent. But many others think it will hold off for now.
EMERGING MARKETS UNDER PRESSURE
The tensions between Russia and the West have added to pressure on emerging markets, some of which have been struggling already as investors shift away because the U.S. Federal Reserve is reducing its flow of cheap funding. Emerging market equities have had 22 consecutive weeks of outflows, according to Bank of America-Merrill Lynch data.
"The big question we are all thinking about is when to go back into emerging markets," said Hans Peterson, global head of asset allocation at SEB investment management. "It might take a few more weeks before we see some stability in U.S. data, so we are probably still a bit away from the entry point."
The MSCI index on emerging market equities was up 0.43 percent at 960.26, although it was still 4.6 percent lower so far in 2014.
In the energy market, Brent crude futures ended down $1.90, or 1.71 percent, at $109.30 a barrel. U.S. oil futures settled down $1.88, or 1.82 percent, at $101.45 after they hit their highest levels since September on Monday.
Spot gold, another safe-haven asset that rose on the Russia-West tensions, gained 0.1 percent to $1,339.99 an ounce after dropping 1.2 percent on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by; Marc Jones in London; Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler)