U.S. Markets

U.S. stocks ended mixed on Thursday as investors awaited Friday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report, while slightly weaker-than-expected economic reports on jobless claims and Chicago Purchasing Managers index weighed on the sentiment.

The S&P 500 Index lost 2.43 points, or 0.18 percent, to end at 1,325.83. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 30.88 points, or 0.25 percent, to close at 12,319.73. However the Nadasq Composite managed to rise 0.15 percent as technology stocks like Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC), Infosys (NASDAQ:INFY), and Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) all rallied at least 1 percent.

The Department of Labor reported that initial jobless claims declined by 6,000 to 388,000 for the week ended March 26 from the previous week's revised figure of 394,000, while economists expected 380,000. The 4-week moving average of initial claims increased 3,250 to 394,250 from the previous week's revised average of 391,000.

The Chicago Purchasing Managers index fell to 70.6 in March from 71.2 in February, while news orders for manufactured goods declined by 0.1 per cent in February compared to a gain of 3.3 percent in January.

On the corporate front, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.B) shares declined 2.14 percent to $83.63 following the surprise resignation of David Sokol, one of Warren Buffett's top lieutenants. David Sokol purchased shares of Lubrizol for about $9 million before urging Buffett to buy the firm.

U.S. Futures

Futures on major U.S. stock indices point to a higher opening on Friday ahead of key monthly non-farm payrolls and unemployment data from the government.

Futures on the S&P 500 are up 0.27 percent, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are up 0.33 percent and Nasdaq100 futures are up 0.41 percent.

Investors are eagerly waiting for the government's monthly nonfarm payrolls report, which is the most closely-watched economic data pertaining to the jobs market and a key gauge for the direction and pace of the economic recovery.

Expectations are high after the ADP National Employment Report on Wednesday stated that the private sector added about 201,000 jobs in March.

The Labor Department is due to report monthly non-farm payrolls data at 8:30 am EDT. The median forecast for the non-farm payrolls is a gain of 188,000 jobs in March, compared with a gain of 192,000 jobs in the previous month, while the unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.9 percent.

ISM manufacturing index is due to release at 10:00 am EDT, which is expected to grow at slower pace in March.

Oil prices rose above $107 on Friday amid concerns that escalating fighting between the rebels and Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in Libya would lead to disruption of oil exports from the OPEC nation for longer than expected.

The euro declined 0.05 percent to 1.4150 against the dollar and the yen declined 0.68 percent against the greenback.

European Markets

European stock markets advanced in early trade on Friday, led by gains from financial stocks after Ireland announced a radical restructuring of its banking sector.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.68 percent to 277.78. DAX30 advanced 65.42 points or 0.93 percent to 7,106.73 and FTSE 100 advanced 46.30 points or 0.78 percent to 5,955.06, while CAC 40 gained 24.65 points or 0.62 percent 4,013.83.

Among financials, Barclays Plc. gained 3.22 percent and Royal Bank of Scotland gained 2.1 percent, while BNP Paribas gained 1.29 percent to 52.28 euros.

Logitech International SA plunged 20.17 percent to 10.15 euros after the company lowered its sales and profit forecasts.

On the economic front, the number of unemployed people in eurozone fell in February, after remaining unchanged in the past two months. The unemployment rate in the 17-nation eurozone dropped 9.9 percent to 15.747 million in February from an upwardly revised rate of 10 percent in January.

Asian Markets

Most Asian stock markets ended higher on Friday, but Tokyo shares declined amid ongoing nuclear crisis.

Japanese stocks ended lower on growing concerns about radiation contamination at a nuclear power station in north-eastern Japan. Benchmark Nikkei advanced 0.48 percent or 46.31 points to 9,755.10.

The Japanese government said it has no plans currently to widen the evacuation zone outside the damaged nuclear power plant at Fukushima, despite warnings from the UN nuclear watchdog that high radiation levels have been detected beyond the current no-go zone.

Nintendo Co. declined 1.38 percent to 22,160 yen and Honda Motor fell 2.4 percent to 3,050.00 yen after a Federal Reserve official said that interest rates made need to rise later in the year to control inflation as both companies counts America as its biggest market.

Shares of Tokyo Electric Power, Japan's biggest utility and operator of the Fukushima nuclear-power plant, declined 3.22 percent to 450.00 yen.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 274.38 points or 1.17 percent to 23,801.90 and Chinese Shanghai composite advanced 1.33 percent or 38.89 points to 2,967 after a report showed that Chinese manufacturing activity grew for the first time in four months as the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to 53.4 in March compared to 52.2 in February.

CNOOC Ltd. gained 4.59 percent to HK$20.50 and PetroChina Co Ltd. advanced 2.03 percent to HK$12.02, while China Railway Group plunged 5.3 percent HK$4.75 after the company stock was downgraded to “underweight” rating from “overweight” rating at JPMorgan.

South Korean shares rose to a record closing high on Friday. Seoul composite advanced 14.31 points or 0.68 percent to a record closing high of 2,121.01 and is just 1 point away from an all-time intraday high of 2,121.06 hit in late January this year. Woori Investment & Securities Co Ltd. gained 3.73 percent and Samsung Securities advanced 4.21 percent.