By Georgi Kantchev
U.S. stocks were poised to waver at the start on Thursday as investors weighed mixed signals on the strength of the global economy.
Futures pointed to broadly flat openings for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 was up 0.2% in lower volume trading ahead of Easter holidays in many countries. Most Asian stock markets retreated.
Eurozone manufacturing data came in worse-than-expected Thursday, pushing the euro down against the dollar. In Germany, Europe's biggest economy, the flash purchasing managers index on manufacturing for April rose slightly to 44.5 but came in below forecasts and held substantially below the 50 mark separating growth from contraction.
The data was the latest contradictory sign about the state of the global economy. After a spell of weak data, some encouraging figures have boosted sentiment among investors in recent weeks. Official statistics Wednesday showed the Chinese economy grew faster-than-expected in the first quarter, helped by government stimulus.
Those measures, along with major central banks' more dovish stance this year, have helped ease fears of a widespread slowdown in economic activity.
"Markets are looking for the next driver," said James Athey, senior investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments. "Investors have been expecting a global growth bounce and we are seeing some encouraging data recently."
Traders were also monitoring the latest developments in trade talks between the U.S. and China, with the countries planning two rounds of face-to-face meetings as negotiators aim for a deal signing ceremony in late May or early June, people familiar with the situation told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Under the tentative schedule, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer is set to travel to Beijing the week of April 29, with Chinese envoy Liu He coming to Washington the week of May 6. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will also be a part of the delegation to China.
"The upside for financial markets from a deal would be limited unless it is a very comprehensive agreement," said Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, in a note to clients.
The euro fell to a one-week low against the dollar, trading down 0.4%. The WSJ Dollar Index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of 16 currencies, was up 0.2%. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield was down to 2.570% from 2.592% Wednesday. Yields move inversely to prices.
The Turkish lira fell 1.4% against the greenback on concerns about the country's reserves. The Financial Times reported Wednesday that Turkey's central bank has bolstered its foreign-currency reserves with short-term borrowed money, raising fears that the country is overstating its ability to defend itself in a fresh lira crisis.
Investors were also looking to the continuing first-quarter earnings season for clues about the strength of businesses and the economy.
So far, slightly more companies than usual have beaten analysts' estimates, providing a source of support for the market. Around 80% of companies have reported above analyst expectations, compared with an average beat of 65%, according to data from Refinitiv. The bar is significantly lower, however, after steep downgrades to 2019 earnings forecasts in recent months.
"There have been a lot of green numbers and not a lot of red," Mr. Athey said. "That's supportive."
In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.6%, while Japan's Nikkei was down 0.8%.
In commodities, Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, was up 0.5%, while gold prices rose 0.1%.
Write to Georgi Kantchev at firstname.lastname@example.org