World Stocks Fall Ahead of Senate Auto Rescue Vote

World markets were mostly lower Thursday amid concerns the U.S. Senate may block the bill to rescue Detroit's carmakers, dismal Chinese economic data and a warning from a leading forecaster that Europe's biggest economy will be in recession until 2010.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 57.40 points, or 1.3 percent, at 4,309.88, while Germany's DAX was 85.03 points, or 1.8 percent, lower at 4,719.85. The CAC-40 in France fell 52.94 points, or 1.6 percent, to 3,267.37.

The losses in Europe follow a 0.7 percent drop on Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average to 8,720.55. However, Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged up 0.2 percent to 15,613.90.

"Sentiment is somewhat fragile especially with the auto bailout bill not yet fully passed," said Hans Redeker, an analyst at BNP Paribas.

Though a $14 billion package to help Detroit's Big Three automakers has been passed by the House of Representatives, there are concerns that Republican opposition could derail the bill in the Senate. Republicans are challenging lame-duck President George W. Bush and House Democrats on the proposal, arguing that any support for the domestic auto industry should carry significant concessions from autoworkers and creditors.

Markets will likely be eyeing up developments in the U.S. for direction.

Early indications are that Wall Street will open lower later following Wednesday's late rally, which saw the Dow Jones industrial average end up 0.8 percent higher at 8,761.42

Dow futures were down 49 points, or 0.6 percent, to 8,712 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures were down 1.8 points, or 0.2 percent, to 894.

Also undermining investor sentiment Thursday was a warning from a leading German research institute that Europe's largest economy will remain in recession until 2010.

The Ifo Institute also said German gross domestic product will likely shrink 2.2 percent next year as the global economic crisis deepens.

In Asia, markets were further weighed by the news that China, the world's fourth biggest economy, saw its exports fall in November for the first time in seven years, prompting some investors to cash in on recent gains.

"The gloom in the global economy took a major step further, with the release of Chinese trade data for November which indicated that the economy is slowing more quickly than many had expected," said Mitul Kotecha, an analyst at Calyon Credit Agricole.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 2.3 percent, or 47.44 points, to 2,031.68 after Chinese leaders ended a top level economic policy meeting without announcing any fresh initiatives to spur growth.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's Kospi gained 0.8 percent to 1,154.43 after the central bank carried out its biggest interest rate cut ever, slashing a key rate by a full percentage point to a record low of 3 percent.

But markets in Australia, China, Singapore and India fell.

Oil prices pushed higher on hope for a significant OPEC production cut next week. Light, sweet crude for January delivery was up $1.46 to $44.98 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currencies, the dollar was 0.5 percent lower at 92.22 yen while the euro was 0.6 percent higher at $1.3089.