By PAN PYLASLONDON (AP) a¿¿ Financial markets were subdued Friday as investors digested a run of economic figures in Europe and awaited clues on the strength of U.S. consumer spending on the first day of the Christmas shopping season. In Europe, the focus was on inflation and unemployment data. Both were encouraging, from the European Central Bank's perspective at least. The 17-country eurozone's inflation rate rose to 0.9 percent in November from October's near four-year low of 0.7 percent. Analysts said that will likely ease fears at the ECB of an imminent slide into deflation a¿¿ falling prices can cause a protracted slide in consumer spending as individuals postpone spending in the hope of getting a better bargain down the line. Also, the number of people unemployed in the region fell by 61,000 in October, helping the unemployment rate to edge down 0.1 percentage point to 12.1 percent. Neither had fallen since early 2011 and stoked hopes that the recovery from recession may be helping the labor market, particularly in the larger economies of Germany and France. "While stagnation in the euro area is expected for the next 18 months or so, keeping the figure (unemployment rate) at elevated levels, it looks unlikely to rise much further," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari. With trading volumes low due to the shortened session in the U.S. following Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday, markets were lackluster. In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 0.1 percent at 6,650.52 while Germany's DAX rose 0.2 percent to 9,405.30. The CAC-40 ended 0.1 percent lower at 4,294.21. The tepid tone markets was evident in the performance of the euro, which was little changed around the $1.3605 mark, even though the figures make it less likely that the ECB will loosen policy further next week a¿¿ a development that could have weighed on Europe's single currency.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.3 percent at 16,148 while the broader S&P 500 index rose the same rate to 1,812.The main focus on Wall Street is the start of the U.S. Christmas shopping season, commonly known as Black Friday as it's traditionally the day in the year most retailers start turning a profit. How the Christmas trading season goes is particularly important as retail sales account for around 70 percent of the U.S. economy. "Retail stocks are outperforming the index as consumers snap up discounted items on the biggest shopping day of the year," said David Madden, market analyst at IG. Earlier in Asia, the region's heavyweight, Japan's Nikkei 225, fell 0.4 percent to 15,661.87 after gaining strongly on Thursday. On Thursday, the Nikkei gained 1.8 percent to its highest close since December 2007. Japanese stocks have been boosted by the yen's decline, which helps exporters by making their goods less expensive abroad. Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 0.4 percent to 23,881.29 while China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was nearly unchanged at 2,220.50.