Spreadbetters expected Britain's FTSE , Germany's DAX and France's CAC to tip toe higher while the markets awaited fresh cues from the Middle East. Crude oil prices were lower due to the dollar's bounce and as investors reassessed the potential impact of the escalating conflict in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and allies carried out air strikes on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on Thursday. Excluding the effect of last year's sales tax increase, data released on Friday showed Japan's core consumer price index was flat in February compared with a year ago. U.S. crude was down 2.1 percent at $50.33 a barrel after jumping 4.5 percent overnight because of the military action in Yemen.
By Henning Gloystein SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Oil prices fell more than $1 on Friday after sharp gains the session before, as worries of a disruption to crude supplies due to Saudi Arabia-led air strikes in Yemen eased. Goldman Sachs said in note that the strikes in Yemen would have little effect on oil supplies as the country was only a small crude exporter and tankers could avoid passing its waters to reach their ports of destination. Brent crude was down 95 cents at $58.24 a barrel at 0636 GMT, after touching $58.17 earlier in the session. While oil prices have fallen, they could end higher than at the start of this week.
A 4 percent decline in biotechnology stocks on Wednesday sent the Nasdaq Composite Index to its largest one-day loss in nearly a year, and some investors are betting that the once-hot sector has further to fall. Short interest has risen in a number of biotech names perceived as vulnerable to a selloff after a rally that has sent the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index up 42 percent over the last year even after this week's declines. Overall, a screen of about 1,650 mid-cap U.S. companies shows biotech stocks, on average, have a short interest ratio of about 11.6 percent, compared with the average mid-cap name's 6.4 percent in short interest, according to Starmine, a Thomson Reuters company. Fund managers now have an average of 4.1 percent of their portfolios in biotechnology companies, nearly double the level of three years ago, according to Lipper data.
By Christine Kim and Choonsik Yoo SEJONG, South Korea/SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea hopes its infrastructure companies will benefit from the country joining the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the finance ministry said on Friday. Shares in some South Korean iron and steel products makers rose sharply, partly on hopes for new orders when the AIIB is operational and funding infrastructure projects, which is likely next year. "(The government) expects our companies to win many orders in areas such as communications, energy and transportation, where they have strength," Song In-chang, head of the finance ministry's international finance bureau, told reporters. Seoul announced on Thursday it would seek to join the AIIB as a founding member, the latest U.S. ally to do so despite Washington's misgivings.
By Laurence Frost PARIS (Reuters) - PSA Peugeot Citroen said on Friday it had chosen a French factory over a rival Spanish plant to expand engine production, prompting a visit by President Francois Hollande to highlight a bright spot in France's gloomy labor market. The eastern French plant beat out Peugeot's factory in Vigo, Spain, for the additional 200,000 engines per year. Manufacturing boss Yann Vincent said Peugeot's decision reflected "work done by the Trémery site to meet competitiveness targets", including productivity concessions by unions. The new production will bring no net increase in jobs, Vincent said, and the plant's 3,700-strong workforce is still expected to decline through attrition.