U.S. Markets

U.S. stocks edged up higher on some positive jobs data and reassurance from the Federal Reserve that the economy is recovering. However, any equity gains were capped by fears over the continued unrest in Libya and rising crude oil prices.

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The Dow Jones Industrial average gained 8.78 points, or 0.07 percent, to 12,066.80. The S&P 500 Index rose 2.11 points, or 0.16 percent, to 1,308.44. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 10.66 points, or 0.39 percent, to 2,748.07.

Oil futures in New York climbed almost 3 percent to more than $102 per barrel – the highest since September 2008 -- on fears that Libyan turmoil will disrupt supply.

Employment in the US private sector rose more than expected in February, posting a gain for a fifth straight month. On seasonally adjusted basis, private-sector employment rose 217,000 in February, from upwardly revised gain of 189,000 in January, while economists estimated an increase by 175,000.

A significant part of employment growth in February came from the services sector, where jobs rose by 202,000, recording an increase for thirteen months in a row. Manufacturing sector posted a gain of 20,000 jobs, while the construction employment dropped by 9,000. However, jobs growth in financial services remained flat in the month.

The Federal Reserve's Beige Book revealed that manufacturers and retailers across all twelve of its districts are passing on rising commodity prices to consumers, but that the economy continues to grow moderately.

Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) jumped 3.29 percent on reports that the online portal company is in negotiations to sell its 30 percent stake in its Yahoo Japan venture.

Gold futures rose, and touched an intraday all-time high of $1,441 an ounce during the session, before settling at a new record sloe of almost $1,438 an ounce.

European Markets

European stock markets ended lower for the second day on Wednesday amid rising oil prices and continuing political unrest in the Middle East.

The Stoxx 600 declined 0.7 percent to 282.76. DAX30 declined 42.18 points or 0.58 percent to 7,181.12, CAC 40 fell 32.83 points or 0.81 percent 4,034.32 and the FTSE 100 declined 20.87 points or 0.35 percent to 5,914.89.

Insurance shares declined sharply after Swiss Reinsurance Co. said it estimates that the insurance industry faces losses of up to $12 billion the New Zealand earthquake. Swiss Reinsurance Co. declined 1.5 percent after estimating its own share of loss may amount $800 million, while Munich Re declined 2.45 percent and AXA fell 2. percent.

Essilor International SA declined 2.7 percent after the company stock was downgraded to “underperform” rating from “outperform” rating at Cheuvreux.

Shares in Standard Chartered were up 4.32 percent on the FTSE 100 after the banking group reported a rise in pre-tax profit in the full year ended 31 December 2010. Pre-tax profit rose 19 per cent in the period to $6.1 billion, while operating income climbed six per cent to $16.1 billion. The group said that it had raised loans and advances to customers 22 per cent to $246 billion, while the company's total assets increased 18 per cent to $517 billion.

On the economic front, the euro zone's producer price index (PPI) rose 6.1 percent year-on-year following the 5.3 percent increase in December, while economists expected 5.7 percent growth.

Asian Markets

Asian stocks ended lower on Wednesday, following declines in the Wall Street overnight on concerns that rising oil prices could hurt economic recovery.

Tokyo shares snapped a three-day winning streak to end lower on Wednesday as oil prices climbed on concern Middle East unrest will reduce supplies. Japanese benchmark index Nikkei plunged 2.43 percent or 261.65 points to 10,492.38.

Aozora Bank Ltd. slumped 5.02 percent to 189 yen and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group declined 3.2 percent to 453 yen, while Toyota Motor declined 2.85 percent and Nintendo fell 3.72 percent. Sharp Corp. declined 4.83 percent after Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities cut its rating to equal-weight from overweight.

Chinese Shanghai composite declined 0.16 percent or 4.65 points to 2,914.28 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 347.76 points or 1.49 percent to 23,048.66. Shares of Sands China plunged 6.19 percent in Hong Kong after parent Las Vegas Sands said it's being investigated by U.S. authorities over its compliance with anti-bribery laws in its Macau operations.

South Korean shares ended lower with benchmark Seoul composite down 11.06 points or 0.57 percent to 1,928.24. So far the index declined 5.99 percent this year. Hyundai Engineering & Construction declined 4.16 percent and Samsung Engineering fell 4.79 percent.

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