European stocks and US stock futures inched higher Monday, while Asian markets fell as weak Japanese data, slumping oil prices and a hostage situation in Australia's largest city made investors more cautious.
KEEPING SCORE: In early afternoon European trading, France's CAC 40 was up 0.4 percent at 4,126.2 and Germany's DAX gained 0.25 percent to 9,618.5. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.30 percent to 6,319.3 Futures pointed to a rebound on Wall Street after Friday's decline, which produced the worst weekly loss in US shares in more than two years. Dow futures were up 0.6 percent at 17,296.00 and S&P 500 futures gained 0.7 percent to 2,004.25.
RUSSIA'S PAIN: The ruble crashed through 60 to the dollar, trading at 60.33 by early afternoon. The falling price of oil — the chief source of Russian exports and tax revenues — has weighed heavily on the currency. The ruble started the year at 32.85 to the dollar.
Even a small increase in the oil price Monday didn't help. The ruble's fall puts pressure on ordinary people through higher prices for imported goods, and could hurt companies and banks that must repay debts in dollars.
OIL SLUMP: Oil inched higher after another rout on Friday that was sparked by the International Energy Agency saying that global demand will grow less than previously forecast next year. On Monday, benchmark US crude was up 49 cents at $58.30 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
JAPAN ELECTIONS: Japan's ruling coalition won in lower house elections Sunday, giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats up to four more years. But the "tankan" business survey released Monday highlighted challenges facing Abe's government which is using lavish monetary and fiscal stimulus to try to end two decades of stagnation. More than two-thirds of companies surveyed said the outlook for the coming quarter was "not so favorable."
THE QUOTE: "The fears around an oversupply of oil are refusing to go away, with anxiety around the issue heightening even further at a time when resurfacing questions over the global economic recovery are continuing to dominate headlines and leading to the fear that there will be even less demand for oil," said Jameel Ahmad, chief market analyst for FXTM.
SYDNEY SIEGE: A hostage situation is unfolding in Sydney, Australia and the nation's prime minister saying it may be "politically motivated." Five people have been able to flee the cafe in downtown Sydney where a gunman took an unknown number of hostages at the height of Monday morning rush hour.
ASIAN SCORECARD: Japan's Nikkei 225 closed down 1.6 percent at 17,099.40. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1 percent to 23,027.85 and Seoul's Kospi shed 0.1 percent to 1,920.36. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.6 percent to 5,186.10. China's Shanghai Composite reversed losses to close up 0.5 percent at 2,953.42. Markets in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia fell.
CURRENCIES: The dollar fell a bare 0.1 percent to 118.76. The euro fell 0.26 percent on the day $1.2428.