Asian shares and major currencies were stuck in ranges on Friday ahead of key U.S. jobs data, which will offer more clues over the state of the world's largest economy, while Greek debt restructuring talks dragged on.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> stood down 0.1 percent, while Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> opened down 0.3 percent. <.T>
Australian shares edged up, with mining stocks heading higher as news that Glencore and Xstrata are in talks on a $80 billion merger stirred interest.
European shares closed at a six-month high on Thursday after miner Xstrata and commodities trader Glencore confirmed merger talks, helping to lift sentiment.
Basically market players will likely take a wait-and-see stance ahead of U.S. payroll data and as Greece has not reached a debt swap deal yet, said Masayuki Doshida, senior market analyst at Rakuten Securities, adding that HSBC's China services PMI data could offer some trading incentives.
U.S. employers are expected to have added 150,000 jobs in January, compared with 200,000 the month before.
Shinichiro Kadota, a strategist at Barclays Capital in Tokyo, said since December numbers reflected a temporary rise in part-time jobs during the holiday season, a drop in January back to around 150,000 jobs would still suggest moderate recovery in the labour market.
Thursday's data showing new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits falling last week pointed to a better jobs market.
The dollar was at 76.16 yen, keeping near a record low around 75.31 yen set on Oct 31, when Japan launched a massive intervention to weaken its currency. The dollar stood steady against the euro at $1.3135.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Thursday he was seeing signs that some of the factors dampening U.S. business investment, including uncertainty surrounding European bank woes, might be waning. But he kept the option of further easing on the table.
Greece has kept hopes of a deal alive all this week but has pushed back the actual debt swap agreement needed to secure a crucial second batch of funds to prevent Athens from defaulting.
Euro zone finance ministers aim to agree a second financing package for Greece on Monday. A deal for Greece would include agreement on official new financing, the size of voluntary losses banks and other private bondholders are willing to accept and new reforms Athens must undertake.
Despite a lack of progress in the debt restructuring talks, sentiment continued to improve in European debt markets, which are feeling the effect of the European Central Bank's unprecedented funding provisions in December.
Europe's interbank lending rates fell further as funding stress eased, while Spain and France drew healthy demand for their debt sales on Thursday, driving their funding costs lower.
Asian credit markets were steady, with spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment grade index barely changed early on Friday.
Brent prices rose for a third straight day on Thursday, supported by cold weather in Europe and geopolitical concerns including the West's standoff with Iran. U.S. crude dropped more than 1 percent, weighed by weak demand and robust supplies in the United States. The price differential between the two contracts widened to near three-month highs.
(Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Richard Pullin)