Today's Primer Post
U.S. stock index futures signaled gains on Wall Street on Friday, as shares in Europe traded higher, reversing Thursday's sharp losses.
Asian stock markets also rebounded on Friday, helped by a 0.7 percent gain in Australian shares. But weak economic growth in Europe and worries the U.S. Federal Reserve might scale back its quantitative easing (QE3) program capped gains.
Minutes from the Fed's meeting in January, released on Wednesday, showed policymakers were growing concerned about the impact of quantitative easing, suggesting the Fed may taper off its $85 billion per month purchases earlier than forecast.
"We overreacted to the Fed news in the last two days, though a healthy correction between 2 and 5 percent would be what investors would want to get back into the market," said Art Hogan, managing director at Lazard Capital Markets, on Thursday.
Paul Dales, U.S. economist at independent research firm Capital Economics, said Thursday's soft CPI (consumer price index) data indicated the Fed's asset purchases weren't stoking inflation.
"Consumer prices were flat last month… largely due to a 3.2 percent month-on-month fall in gasoline prices, more than offsetting a 0.4 percent rise in electricity and gas prices," wrote Dales in a note on Thursday afternoon.
"The rise in gasoline prices seen this month will boost the overall CPI by at least 0.4 percent in February, but that would still leave headline inflation below the Fed's 2 percent target."
In Europe, investors remained cautious ahead of Italy's general election this weekend, although Milan's FTSE MIB was up 0.85 percent, after falling 2.9 percent on Thursday.
Campaigning has heated up in recent months and front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani and center-right candidate Silvio Berlusconi face a challenge from comedian Beppe Grillo, who may grab the protest vote with his "5 Star Movement".
Technocrat Mario Monti is in fourth place, but is expected to be approached by Bersani to form a coalition. However, Grillo could overtake Berlusconi to move into second place, analysts say, which could upset the coalition plan.
Friday will be a quiet day for fourth-quarter earnings, with Abercrombie & Fitch and the Washington Post posting results before the start of U.S. trade.
In Europe, shares of Air France-KLM and A.P. Moeller-Maersk rose around two percent after both companies posted better-than-expected results. Shares in Alcatel-Lucent also rose after the French telecoms company appointed Michel Combes, the former chief executive of Vodafone Europe, as CEO.
U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on Friday. Abe is expected to seek support for the hyper-easy monetary policies he has instigated to revive Japan's ailing economy.
Germany reported fourth-quarter gross domestic product declined 0.6 percent, in line with the flash estimate, on Friday. However,Germany's Ifo business climate index posted its biggest monthly gain since July 2010 in February, suggesting the country is rebounding after its weak fourth quarter.
- By CNBC's Katy Barnato