Wall Street was mixed as solid private jobs data heightened anticipation for the minutes of last month's Federal Reserve meeting, scheduled to be released later today, to gauge the odds the improving labour market will accelerate the pace of tapering.
In afternoon trading in New York today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.48 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was steady. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.33 percent. Shares of AT&T and Walt Disney fell, down 1.9 percent and 1.8 percent respectively, leading the Dow lower.
US companies added 238,000 jobs in December, the largest increase since November 2012, and following an upwardly revised 229,000 in November.
"It's a good number," Ryan Larson, the Chicago-based head of US equity trading at RBC Global Asset Management (US), told Bloomberg News. "It continues to confirm an improving employment picture."
The ADP data raised expectations for the monthly government employment report, due to be released on Friday, as well as the overall recovery in the world's largest economy.
"We're now going to start to see an economic recovery more typical of the economic recoveries we've seen historically," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which jointly develops the report with payrolls processor ADP, told Reuters. "It feels like the jobs market has kicked into a higher gear."
After the last Fed meeting, policy makers said they would cut back the central bank's monthly bond-buying programme to US$75 billion this month, from US$85 billion previously, and investors are keen to read more details on that decision.
"Everyone wants to see what was behind the curtain of the last Fed meeting, to see what parameters were discussed with the taper or rates," Paul Nolte, managing director at Dearborn Partners in Chicago, told Reuters.
Shares of JC Penney sank, last down 8.2 percent, after the department store retailer said in a statement that it was "pleased" with its holiday sales performance, but stopped short of providing details on those sales.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the day with a 0.1 percent increase from the previous close. Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent, while the UK's FTSE 100 dropped 0.5 percent.
Unemployment in the euro zone held steady at 12.1 percent in November, a report showed today. Separately, German factory orders increased a better-than-expected 2.1 percent, which bolstered optimism about the euro-zone's engine economy.
"The signs are that Germany's economy will keep expanding strongly in the first half of 2014," Stefan Muetze, an economist at Helaba in Frankfurt, told Bloomberg News. "That's good for the entire euro area and will support the region's recovery this year."