U.S. Markets

U.S. stocks ended lower on Thursday after a major aftershock in Japan triggered new fears about a nuclear crisis, but better-than-expected jobless claims data and monthly retail sales data held losses in check.

The S&P 500 Index was down 2.03 points, or 0.15 percent, at 1,333.51. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 17.26 points, or 0.14 percent, at 12,409.49. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.13 percent.

Earlier Dow Jones Industrial Average declined nearly 100 points on news that another massive earthquake measuring 7.4 on Richter hit Japan at 11:32:41 pm with the epicenter about 250 miles from Tokyo.

Stocks recovered from earlier losses after Japan’s NHK World TV reported that all tsunami alerts in the country have been lifted.

Economic data on Thursday was positive; the applications for jobless benefits in the U.S. fell more than expected last week, recording a second consecutive weekly decline. Initial jobless claims in the US dropped by 10,000 to 382,000 compared with the revised figure of 392,000 in the previous week, while markets had expected the jobless claims to fall to 385,000 in the week.

Most of the U.S. retailers reported better than expected same-store sales results in March despite poor weather and higher gasoline prices. Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ:COST) shares gained 3.77 percent and Limited Brands Inc. (NYSE:LTD) gained 1.62 percent after reporting better than expected March sales.

Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc. (NASDAQ:BBBY) stock surged 10.45 percent as its fourth quarter earnings and revenue topped Street view.

U.S. Futures

Futures on the S&P 500 are up 0.41 percent, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are up 0.35 percent and Nasdaq100 futures are up 0.33 percent.

The euro gained 0.66 percent to 1.4403 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.41 percent. Crude oil futures gained 1.2 percent to $111.62 a barrel and gold futures rose 0.83 percent.

European Markets

European stock markets advanced in early trade on Friday, led by gains from basic resources companies’ shares as commodity prices surged.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.52 percent to 282.25. DAX30 gained 44.30 points or 0.62 percent to 7,223.08 and FTSE 100 advanced 47.74 points or 0.79 percent to 6,055.11, while CAC 40 gained 35.58 points or 0.88 percent 4,063.88.

Among mining stocks, Rio Tinto Plc gained 1.67 percent and BHP Billiton Plc surged 2.34 percent, while Kazakhmys Plc gained 1.78 percent.

Raiffeisen Bank International AG gained 0.81 percent to 39.74 euros after the bank proposed increasing its dividend to 1.05 euros for 2010 from 20 cents the previous year

Portuguese stocks gained as euro zone finance ministers were set to discuss the country's bailout plea on Friday, including how much it needs and what reforms it could do in return.

Asian Markets

Most Asian stock markets ended higher on Friday despite Japan’s latest earthquake in the northeastern coast. The 7.4-magnitude earthquake resulted to a tsunami alert which was soon lifted by the local weather agency. Japanese authorities reported no damage to the nation’s nuclear power stations.

Tokyo shares ended higher on Thursday on back of strong performance from major retailers. Benchmark Nikkei advanced 1.85 percent or 177.15 points to 9,768.08.

Fast Retailing Co. surged 7.27 percent to 11,940 yen after the company raised its full-year net income forecast by 18 percent to 60 billion yen on overseas growth and lower costs.

Among the automakers, Honda Motor advanced 1.43 percent to 2,969 yen and Toyota Motor advanced 1.36 percent to 3,340 yen.

South Korean shares edge higher, led by gains from shipyards including Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. Seoul composite gained 5.83 points or 0.27 percent to 2,127.97.

Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd. climbed 3.58 percent on news that the company had signed a letter of intent with Norwegian shipping and LNG company Hoegh LNG for delivery of up to six floating storage and regasifiation units (FSRUs), while Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co Ltd surged 6.57 percent.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 114.27 points or 0.47 percent to 24,396.07 and Chinese Shanghai composite gained 0.74 percent or 22.19 points to 3,030.10.