In economic data, jobless claims fell by 17,000 to 297,000 last week. The 4-week moving average -- a better gauge of underlying trends -- rose to 299,000, the highest in 10 weeks.
The European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged at record lows. The ECB also cut economic growth forecasts for 2015, down from 1.6 per cent to 1.0 per cent. And at the news conference ECB President Mario Draghi said the bank would reassess the impact of its monetary policy stimulus early next year and take further action if necessary. The ECB will continue to monitor "the broader impact of recent oil price developments on medium-term inflation trends in the euro area" and "address risks of too prolonged a period of low inflation".
European shares fell on Thursday after the ECB stuck to its line that it will decide early next year whether further measures are needed to boost the euro zone economy, sparking profit-taking. The FTSEurofirst 300 index fell by 1.4 per cent and the German Dax fell by 1.2 per cent. But the UK FTSE eased by 0.6 per cent. In London trade shares in BHP Billiton fell by 1.2 per cent while Rio Tinto fell 2.6 per cent.
US sharemarkets were mixed in choppy trade on Thursday Investors waited on the non-farm payrolls (employment data) scheduled for release on Friday. The slide in the oil price hurt energy stocks with the sector down 0.5 per cent. At the close, the Dow Jones was down by 13 points or 0.1 per cent with the S&P 500 index down by 0.1 per cent while the Nasdaq was down 5 points or 0.1 per cent.
US treasuries rose on Thursday (yields lower) after the ECB said policymakers will decide on further stimulus next year. US 2-year yields fell by 2 point to 0.545 per cent while US 10-year yields fell by 3 points to 2.258 per cent.
Major currencies were mixed against the greenback in European and US trade on Thursday. The Euro rose from lows near $US1.2305 to highs around $US1.2455 and was around $US1.2365 in late US trade. The Aussie dollar rose from lows near US83.55c to around US84.15c and was around US83.75c in late US trade. And the Japanese yen traded between ¥120.20 per US dollar to ¥119.40 and was near ¥119.85 in late US trade.
World oil prices fell in choppy trading on Thursday as the debate for a sustainable price level continued after Saudi Arabia announced deep price cuts for crude it sells to Asian and US buyers in an apparent attempt to defend its market share. Brent crude fell by US40c or 0.6 per cent to $US69.52 a barrel. The US Nymex crude price fell by US57c or 0.8 per cent to $US66.81 a barrel.
Base metal prices were mostly higher on the London Metal Exchange on Thursday. Nickel rose 3.2 per cent, with copper (up 1.6 per cent), and aluminium (up 1.4 per cent) also recording solid gains. The exception was tin which fell 0.3 per cent. Gold fell on Thursday with Comex gold futures down by $US1 an ounce or 0.1 per cent to $1,207.70 per ounce. Iron ore rose by $US1.60 to $US71.10 a tonne on Thursday.
Ahead: In Australia, no economic data is released. In the US, non-farm payrolls, factory orders, consumer credit and trade data are all slated for release.
Craig James is chief economist of CommSec.