european markets

European markets were little changed in the opening minutes of trade as investors awaited US employment data for further indications on conditions in the world's largest economy.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index covering blue-chip stocks in the region eased 0.1 percent to 1,179.8.

The UK's FTSE 100 remained little changed while Germany's DAX was up 0.03 percent.

France's CAC-40 rose 0.06 percent. Italy's FTSE MIB and Spain's IBEX climbed 0.4 and 0.5 percent respectively. The single currency remained weak against the dollar, trading at about $1.29.

Investors across the region are awaiting the key US nonfarm payrolls data, scheduled for release later in the day. The data is expected to show that the country added fewer jobs in March compared to September, as economists estimate a 200,000 increase in jobs and unemployment rate to remain steady at 7.7 percent.

Concerns remain high after data released in the previous session showed that the number of people claiming jobless benefits in the country jumped to a four-month high in the previous week.

European markets had turned weak in the previous session after the European Central Bank's policy review dampened sentiments. Maintaining the benchmark interest rate at 0.75 percent, ECB chief Mario Draghi indicated that the central bank cannot compensate for lack of capital in the region's banks and lack of action from governments.

However, he added that the ECB will be keeping a close watch on the conditions and that the monetary policy will remain supportive.

Most Asian markets had closed lower earlier, but Japanese stocks jumped to a record high as Bank of Japan's aggressive monetary easing steps boosted economic hopes.

The Nikkei ended 1.6 percent higher to close at 12833.6, after crossing the 13,000 mark for the first time since August 2008 during the day.

South Korea's KOSPI was down 1.6 percent to 1927.2. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.4 percent to 4891.4.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 2.3 percent to 21824.8 towards close. Markets in mainland China remained closed for a holiday.

BoJ's sweeping monetary policy changes, which sent a clear message on its intentions to reach the 2 percent inflation target, continued to keep sentiments upbeat in Tokyo. Concluding a two-day policy meet, the central bank announced a number of plans such as boosting government bond purchases, including those of longer maturities.

The yen weakened to its lowest level in over three years during the day, which boosted exporter stocks higher in Tokyo. But the yen weakness dampened prospects for their competitors in the rest of Asia, prompting a cautious stand from investors in South Korea and Hong Kong.

Investors in Seoul were also troubled by the continuing tensions with North Korea. Earlier in the day, South Korea's top financial officials warned that tensions with Pyongyang could have long-term impact on its markets, adding additional pressure on the economy.