US equities slipped from record highs as investors awaited the government's monthly employment data before making further bets on the American economy.
A Labor Department report showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits climbed by 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000 last week. On Wednesday, ADP Research Institute data had showed US companies added 191,000 payrolls in March.
Separately, the US trade deficit unexpectedly grew in February, rising 7.7 percent to US$42.3 billion, while the Institute for Supply Management's US non-manufacturing index increased to 53.1 in March, up from 51.6 a month earlier.
"The information we've gotten so far today is a little bit on the light side with respect to leading us towards bullishness, but not enough to make us run screaming 'sell' down the halls," Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst, Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh, told Reuters.
The government's payrolls report is expected to show that 200,000 jobs were added last month with the jobless rate slipping to 6.6 per cent.
In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.04 percent lower, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.20 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 0.87 percent.
Earlier in the session both the Dow and the S&P 500 set intraday record highs.
Gains in shares of Intel and American Express, up 1.8 percent and 0.6 percent respectively, offset declines in shares of Microsoft and Merck, down 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the day 0.1 percent higher than the previous close, as did Germany's DAX. France's CAC 40 rose 0.4 percent. The UK's FTSE 100 fell 0.2 percent.
The European Central Bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low 0.25 percent, as had been widely expected.
"We are resolute in our determination to maintain a high degree of monetary accommodation and to act swiftly if required," ECB President Mario Draghi said after the meeting in a statement. "Hence, we do not exclude further monetary policy easing and we firmly reiterate that we continue to expect the key ECB interest rates to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time."
"The Governing Council is unanimous in its commitment to using also unconventional instruments within its mandate in order to cope effectively with risks of a too prolonged period of low inflation," Draghi said. "The risks surrounding the economic outlook for the euro area continue to be on the downside."
Some analysts said Draghi's comment reflected a new urgency with regards to bolstering inflation to a higher level.
"Draghi tends to speak vaguely and just reiterate earlier speeches but he was more specific and aggressive this time round," Steven Santos, a broker at X-Trade Brokers, told Bloomberg News. "It looks like the ECB is increasingly pondering cutting the main interest rate and that the central bank might even come up with new measures soon. Markets clearly want more intervention from Draghi."
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