World Stocks Fall as Delta Variant Worries Take Center Stage

SINGAPORE (AP) -- World stock markets fell Friday as worries surrounding the spread of the delta variant again took center stage.

Germany's DAX fell 0.3% to 15,720.16 and the CAC 40 in France gave up 0.2% to 6,594.34. The FTSE 100 in Britain was down 0.3% at 7,040.85 in early trading.

Wall Street was set for early losses. S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average futures retreated 0.5% to 4,380.00 and 34,646.00 respectively. Both indexes were positioned to end the week in the red.

Traders are watching mounting infections around the world, including in New Zealand, which is in lockdown after reporting its first outbreak in six months.

"With the number of COVID-19 infections on the rise, especially in the U.S., the threat from the delta variant is becoming more apparent spurring cautious risk sentiment," said Venkateswaran Lavanya of Mizuho Bank.

Positive earnings reports from retailers lifted sentiments on Wall Street on Thursday. So did the Labor Department, recorded another weekly drop in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits.

Claims fell 29,000 to 348,000 last week, in a pandemic low. This brought the four-week average to 378,000, also a pandemic low.

These numbers are one to watch if the trend continues, Yeap Jun Rong of IG said in a report.

"September's jobs report may be of significance in determining the timeline for tapering. A continued robust recovery in the labor market may increase the chances of an earlier tapering timeline, potentially driving some volatility ahead," he added.

Earlier this week, minutes from a recent U.S. Federal Reserve meeting showed that officials had discussed reducing asset purchases this year. But they stopped short of setting a firm timeline.

The Fed's symposium at Jackson Hole starting next Thursday could offer hints on when tapering will begin.

In Asia on Friday, the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo lost 1% to 27,013.25. Seoul's Kospi fell 1.2% to 3,060.51 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong slipped 1.8% to 24,849.72.

The Shanghai Composite Index gave up 1.1% to 3,427.33. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.1% at 7,460.90. Benchmarks in Singapore and Indonesia rose while India's and New Zealand's fell.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude lost 22 cents to $63.47 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, shed 27 cents to $66.18 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar eased to 109.64 Japanese yen from Thursday's 109.74 yen. The euro retreated to $1.1677 from $1.1682.