World Stocks Firm Ahead of UK Vote

World Stocks Firm Ahead of UK Vote

HONG KONG (AP) -- World stock benchmarks were firm Thursday as investors parsed economic data and awaited market-moving events in Europe, including Britain's general election and a European Central Bank meeting.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares were mostly higher in early trading. France's CAC 40 edged up 0.1 percent to 5,270.99 and Germany's DAX gained 0.3 percent to 12,704.46. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent after polls opened. Wall Street was poised to open higher, with Dow futures up 0.1 percent to 21,189.00 and broader S&P 500 futures adding 0.1 percent to 2,434.40.

DATA DUMP: Japan released revised first-quarter data that showed Asia's second-largest economy expanded an annualized 1 percent, a significant drop from last month's initial 2.2 percent estimate, according to Kyodo News. The downgrade was based mainly on a drop in crude oil inventories. Meanwhile, China trade growth accelerated last month, with exports expanding 8.7 percent and imports up 11.9 percent, pointing to a pickup in global demand.

BRITAIN VOTES: Political risk is rising to the top of investors' minds as voters prepare to go to the polls for Britain's general election. The race looks to be tighter than expected as the Conservatives' lead over Labour narrowed sharply in recent weeks. Results aren't expected until Friday and an unexpected outcome could play havoc with global markets and the pound.

ECB MEETS: Investors will be monitoring the European Central Bank's meeting and news conference later in the day, where policymakers are expected to sketch out their latest plans for the bank's bond-buying stimulus program. No big changes are expected after officials said that the 19-nation eurozone's economy still needs support despite improvement. Rather, traders will be focusing on officials' assessment of the risks to the economy.

QUOTEWORTHY: "I think that the ECB meeting and the UK election are the risk events that will produce the big moves today," said Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at FXTM.

ASIAN SCORECARD: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.3 percent to close at 19,909.26 and South Korea's Kospi edged up 0.2 percent to 2,363.57. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.3 percent to 26,059.75 and the Shanghai Composite index in mainland China added 0.3 percent to 3,150.33. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 crept up 0.2 percent to 5,676.60.

ENERGY: Oil futures stabilized after slumping overnight on unexpected news that U.S. crude stockpiles grew 3.3 million barrels last week. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 28 cents to $45.99 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slid $2.47, or 5.1 percent, to close at $45.72 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 27 cents to $48.33 per barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 109.80 yen from 109.83 in late trade Wednesday. The euro weakened to 1.1258 from $1.1262.