In US economic data, new claims for unemployment insurance (jobless claims) fell by 8,000 to 287,000 in the latest week, well short of forecasts centred on a result near 297,000. Factory orders fell 10.1 per cent in August, larger than the 9.3 per cent decline expected. And planned job layoffs fell from 40,010 to 34,477 in September, according to Challenger. And the ISM New York index rose from 648.0 to 654.8 in September.
European shares fell sharply on Thursday. The European Central Bank confirmed that it will purchase securities over the next two years but gave no details of the size of the purchases. The FTSEurofirst 300 index fell by 2.4 per cent to a six-week low while the German Dax lost 2.0 per cent and the UK FTSE fell by 1.7 per cent. And Australia's major miners were weaker in London trade with shares in BHP Billiton down by 1.4 per cent while Rio Tinto fell by 1.1 per cent.
US sharemarkets ended Thursday's session generally flat ahead of the release of September employment data. After being down 130 points at one stage the Dow Jones index ended trade down almost 4 points, or less than 0.1 per cent. The broader S&P 500 index was up by less than 0.1 per cent while the Nasdaq gained 8 points or 0.2 per cent. But smaller companies recorded price gains, with the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks up by 1.0 per cent.
US long-term treasury prices fell on Thursday (yields higher) as traders squared positions ahead of key US jobs data. US 2-year yields rose by 1 point to 0.5395 per cent while US 10-year yields rose by 5 points to 2.4375 per cent.
Major currencies were generally a little firmer against the greenback over the European and US sessions on Thursday as traders positioned ahead of US jobs data. The euro rose from lows near $US1.2615 to highs near $US1.2695, ending US trade near $US1.2665. The Australian dollar rose from lows near US87.65c to highs around US88.25c before ending the US session near US88.00c. And the Japanese yen firmed from 108.93 yen per US dollar to ¥108.03, ending US trade near ¥108.44.
World oil prices were mixed on Thursday. While there are ample world oil supplies, traders watch developments with the ebola virus and await key US jobs data. Brent crude fell by US74c or 0.8 per cent to a 27-month low of $US93.42 a barrel while the US Nymex crude price rose by US28c a barrel or 0.3 per cent to $US91.01 a barrel.
Base metal prices were lower on Thursday by up to 1.6 per cent with aluminium leading the declines. But tin bucked the trend, up by less than 0.1 per cent. Gold prices fell on Thursday with the Comex gold futures quote down by US40c an ounce to $US1,215.10 per ounce. Iron ore rose by US50c a tonne or 0.6 per cent to $US78.80 a tonne.
Ahead: In Australia, new home sales and new car sales data are released with the Performance of Services index. In the US, non-farm payrolls (employment) data is released with the ISM services index.
Craig James is chief economist at Commsec.