Markets subdued as US payrolls loom

LONDON -- Financial markets remained subdued Thursday as investors were reluctant to stake out positions ahead of key U.S. jobs data.

The monthly U.S. nonfarm payrolls report, due Friday, is the week's main event in the markets following Thursday's monthly policy meeting of the European Central Bank. As expected, the ECB kept its main interest rate unchanged at the record low of 0.75 percent and reiterated a gloomy outlook for the economy of the 17-country bloc that uses the euro.

In his press conference, ECB President Mario Draghi defended the bank's bond-buying plan, indicating it is now up to governments to act. The plan, which has helped shore up markets, has not yet been used by any eurozone government.

Spain is widely expected to request financial assistance but its government has so far been reluctant to do so. Draghi said it remains the job of the Spanish government to ask for help though he praised efforts to get the country's deficit under control.

With the ECB meeting out of the way, investors will concentrate on Friday's nonfarm data for September. By the end of trading in Europe, they appeared cautious.

Germany's DAX stock index was down 0.2 percent at 7,305 while the CAC-40 in France had fallen 0.14 percent to 3,401. Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.03 percent at 5,827.

In the U.S., stocks were supported somewhat by government figures showing the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits for the first time rose to 367,000 last week, fewer than economists had forecast.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.6 percent at 13,510 while the broader S&P 500 index rose the same rate to 1,460.

The monthly payrolls figures due Friday will likely dominate trading over the rest of the week as they are a key indicator for growth in the world's largest economy. They may acquire added importance this month as they are released in the heat of the U.S. presidential race.

"All eyes are now on tomorrow's September payrolls report, which is expected to report subdued monthly job growth of about 110,000," said Robert Kavcic, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

In other markets, the euro gained some ground from Draghi's admission that the ECB did not discuss a rate cut. It was up 0.7 percent at $1.3014.

Meanwhile, the benchmark New York oil price $1.66 higher at $89.80 a barrel. The oil price fell $3.75, or 4.1 percent, on Wednesday, its biggest decline since May 4 amid concerns over the global economy.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.9 percent to close at 8,824.59 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose nearly 0.1 percent to 20,907.95. Chinese markets remained on holiday.