By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An index of stock markets worldwide crept lower on Thursday on uncertainty over the outlook for U.S. interest rate cuts and weak U.S. manufacturing data that raised concerns about the health of the world's largest economy.
U.S. manufacturing industries in July recorded their first month of contraction in almost a decade amid concerns about whether the U.S.-China trade conflict would tip the economy into a recession, a private survey showed.
"Manufacturing has been pretty weak across the globe for a while now and we are starting to see that bleed into the U.S.," said Joe Mallen, chief investment officer at Helios Quantitative Research.
Investors' focus, however, remained firmly on Friday's speech by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell at a Jackson Hole, Wyoming, event, which could offer clarity on the direction of U.S. monetary policy.
The Fed has come under increasing pressure to cut borrowing costs more, including a call by President Donald Trump on Wednesday for the central bank to reduce its benchmark rate.
The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, was down 0.25%.
On Wall Street, stocks finished a choppy session nearly unchanged. While strong results from retailers bolstered confidence in consumer demand and lifted shares, the manufacturing data and uncertainty about the interest rate outlook kept investors in check.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was the strongest of the three U.S. major stock indexes, helped by a 4.24% jump in Boeing's shares after a Reuters report that the company has told suppliers it will resume production of its best-selling 737 jets at a rate of 52 aircraft per month in February 2020.
The Dow rose 49.51 points, or 0.19%, to finish at 26,252.24, the S&P 500 lost 1.48 points, or 0.05%, to end at 2,922.95 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 28.82 points, or 0.36%, to close at 7,991.39.
"The market is pausing as investors are waiting for big news tomorrow on Chairman Powell's speech," said James Ragan, director of wealth management research at D.A. Davidson in Seattle.
European shares, which found support from upbeat surveys on Germany and the euro zone, declined on a report that the Bundesbank sees no need for German fiscal stimulus right now. The pan-European STOXX 600 index closed down 0.40%.
In currency markets, the dollar slipped 0.1% against a basket of other major currencies to 98.193, but moved within narrow ranges as investors awaited more clues from the Fed.
While the Fed's latest minutes showed U.S. policymakers are reluctant to begin a big rate-cutting cycle in the coming months, market participants still expect it to signal a stimulus measure, or an affirmation that the U.S. central bank is on a steady path to ease interest rates, a scenario viewed as negative for the dollar.
Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said on Thursday the U.S. central bank currently does not need to deliver more stimulus to the economy after it cut rates for the first time in more than a decade last month.
Asian currencies suffered after the Chinese yuan fell to an 11-year low against the dollar, indicating trade tension between the world's two biggest economies remained a major issue. nB9N22601Z]
U.S. Treasury yields climbed as comments from Fed officials dampened hopes of future interest rate cuts.
Benchmark 10-year notes were down 10/32 in price to yield 1.6131%, up from 1.577% late on Wednesday.
Oil prices weakened as worries about the global economy weighed.
Brent crude settled down 38 cents, or 0.6%, at $59.92 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude ended the session 33 cents, or 0.6% lower at $55.35.
Gold prices were slightly lower as investors awaited the outcome of the Jackson Hole meeting. Spot gold dropped 0.23% to $1,498.5259 an ounce.
(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and April Joyner in New York, Akanksha Rana and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Steve Orlofsky)