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World stocks muted ahead of US jobs report

HONG KONG/SEOUL--European stocks made modest gains Friday and Asian markets meandered as investors looked to the upcoming U.S. job report for a fresh trading cue.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent to 6,674.11 wqhile Germany's DAX added 0.2 percent to 9,645.57. France's CAC-40 was also up 0.2 percent to 4,459.32.

Wall Street appeared set for a day of moderate gains, with Dow Jones futures up 0.1 percent. S&P 500 futures added 0.2 percent.

The U.S. March jobs report will be released early Friday morning in Washington. Many economists think it will show a bounce-back in hiring by employers who held off adding staff during winter.

Analysts forecast that employers added 195,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be the highest total in four months and up from 175,000 in February. The unemployment rate is predicted to fall to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent in February.

Asia is “a market that is really keen to see a genuine improvement in U.S. data again,” IG's Chief Strategist Chris Weston said in a market commentary.

In earlier trading, sentiment was mixed after the European Central Bank did not cut interest rates or announce any new stimulus measures, as some had been hoping.

On Thursday, the ECB decided to leave its main interest rate at a record-low 0.25 percent.

Asian Shares Mixed

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei-225 index edged down 0.05 percent, or 8.11 points, to 15,063.77, while Sydney closed up 0.24 percent, or 12.9 points, at 5,422.8 and Hong Kong fell 0.24 percent, or 55.00 points, to end at 22,510. 08.

Seoul closed 0.28 percent lower, or 5.61 points, at 1,988.09 and Shanghai added 0.74 percent, or 15.13 points, to 2,058.83.

Taipei was closed for a public holiday.

With few catalysts to drive trade, investors took the opportunity to cash in gains after a broad global rally this week that has been fuelled by upbeat data including on manufacturing and U.S. private-sector jobs.

Attention is now on the U.S. non-farm payrolls release.

However, while a strong pick-up in employment will be welcomed, some investors fear that too-strong numbers could lead the Federal Reserve to speed up the tapering of its stimulus regime.

Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, said: “Solid jobs data is welcome, but numbers too robust may spark fears that the Fed may actually accelerate stimulus tapering.”

That could result in “another roiling effect,” he said.

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