Wall Street fell after a softer-than-expected private jobs report and a decline in oil prices, while stocks in Europe gained ahead of a European Central Bank gathering that should reveal more about its plans for additional monetary stimulus.
Oil prices fell after a report showing US crude oil inventories climbed to a fresh record for the eighth week in a row.
A report from the ADP Research Institute showed private employers added 212,000 jobs in February, somewhat short of the respective 219,000 and 220,000 forecasts in Bloomberg and Reuters surveys. The January reading was revised up to 250,000 from a previously reported gain of 213,000.
Friday's government jobs data should help shed more light on the timing of a Federal Reserve interest rate increase. It is expected to show US employers added 240,000 jobs in February, down from 257,000 in January, while the unemployment rate slipped to 5.6 percent, from 5.7 percent, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
Separately, the Institute for Supply Management's services index rose to 56.9 in February, up from 56.7 in January, bettering expectations.
"It's less about the recent economic data and more where we are today, and it's more about looking forward to monetary policy changing as well," Stephen Massocca, chief investment officer at Wedbush Equity Management in San Francisco, told Reuters.
In afternoon trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.49 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index slid 0.44 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.22 percent.
Slides in shares of Caterpillar and those of Walt Disney, last down 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent respectively, led the decline in the Dow. Alcoa was 4.3 percent lower.
Even so, Wall Street is trading near record highs. And the biggest source of fresh cash in American equities is companies buying their own stock, by a 6-to-1 margin, Bloomberg reported, citing to data compiled by S&P Dow Jones Indices. Chief executive officers, who just announced the biggest round of monthly repurchases ever, executed about US$550 billion of buybacks last year.
In Europe, all eyes are on Thursday's euro-zone central bank meeting. The European Central Bank will announce further details about its plans to bolster the region's sagging economy and inflation with additional bond purchases.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the session with an 0.8 percent gain from the previous close. The UK's FTSE 100 Index rose 0.4 percent, while both France's CAC 40 Index and Germany's DAX climbed 1 percent.
The euro, however, last traded 0.9 percent lower at US$1.1077, after earlier in the day touching the lowest level in 11 years.
"There have been some mixed signs from the European data, but the ECB's commencement of its [quantitative easing] program is still very much the focus of markets," Keith Bowman, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown in London, told Bloomberg. "I'm still optimistic on European equities. With the QE program in the background, that does provide significant support."