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World stocks mixed ahead of key US economic index

BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets were mixed Friday as investors digested a slew of disappointing data from the U.S. ahead of the release of a key measurement of the country's economic outlook.

Investors were looking ahead to the Conference Board's index of leading indicators for April, to be released later Friday. The index is designed to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out. Analysts hope the figures will balance out several discouraging economic reports released Thursday, including a jump in unemployment aid applications to their highest level in six weeks.

Britain's FTSE 100 fell marginally to 6,684.26. Germany's DAX retreated 0.4 percent to 8,332.22. France's CAC-40 was less than 0.2 percent down at 3,972.01. Wall Street, however, appeared ready to rally again: Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.1 percent to 15,225 and S&P 500 futures added 0.1 percent to 1,649.70.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.7 percent to close at 15,138.12, reversing a lower open. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.3 percent to 5,180.80, pushed up by gains in BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company. The stock rose 1.9 percent on bargain-hunting. Australia & New Zealand Banking Group rose 1.3 percent.

Benchmark in mainland China and Indonesia also rose while those in Taiwan, India, Singapore, New Zealand and the Philippines fell. Markets in Hong Kong and South Korea were closed for public holidays.

Evan Lucas of IG Markets in Melbourne said market declines could be explained by investors cashing in their gains following strong rallies. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index has returned 45 percent so far this year. The Standard & Poor's 500 has delivered a terrific first four months. It's up 16 percent.

"There is always an uneasy feeling underlying the markets when they start making all-time highs," Lucas said.

Shares linked to gold, which has suddenly fallen afoul of investors like George Soros, dropped. Australia's Newcrest Mining was down 2.3 percent. Lao Feng Xiang, a major, Shanghai-listed gold retailer, fell 0.5 percent.

Corporate earnings, which have been helping to power Wall Street to all-time highs, took a step back on Thursday after Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, reported a disappointing first-quarter profit and acknowledged a sales slump. Personal computer maker Dell posted dismal first quarter earnings.

Markets were also reacting to comments by John Williams, head of the Federal Reserve's San Francisco branch, who told an audience that the Fed could end its bond-buying program this year. But Williams' comments made clear that the Fed would only curtail its stimulus effort when the economy looked strong enough. The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 both dropped Thursday, having closed at record highs the day before.

Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 21 cents to $94.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 86 cents to $95.16 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2866 from $1.2907 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 102.55 yen from 102.06 yen.

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