Markets struggle to eke out further gains

Tuesday - 3/12/2013, 1:18pm EDT

AP Business Writer

LONDON (AP) -- Financial markets were leaden-footed on Tuesday, a day after the Dow Jones index posted its seventh straight rise to record another all-time high.

With many of the world's major stock indexes at multi-year highs, too, investors have paused to mull whether the rally can make another push higher.

So far this week, a dearth of scheduled economic news has kept investors on the sidelines but a pick-up in coming days will test confidence in stocks' valuation.

"Nobody wants to get off the gravy train too soon, but on the other hand no one wants to commit to buying a season ticket," said David Madden, market analyst at IG.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.4 percent at 6,527 while Germany's DAX fell 0.23 percent to 7,966. The CAC-40 in France was 0.1 percent higher at 3,839.

In the U.S., stocks faltered after a perky opening -- the Dow Jones industrial average was flat at 14,439 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.3 percent to 1,552.

For much of the past month, the Dow has been the focus as it tried to breach its previous high. Now, attention is turning to the S&P as it is also close to a record peak.

"Although the S&P is within a whisker of fresh all-time highs, history has shown us that in both 2000 and 2007 when it's been around this level, it's been the tipping point for a considerable sell-off," said Fawad Razaqzada, market strategist at GFT Markets. "Whether 2013 can be any different remains to be seen."

Currency markets were fairly active, with the euro volatile around the $1.30 mark. By late afternoon in London, it was trading flat on the day at $1.3030.

Meanwhile, the British pound fell as far as $1.4830, its lowest level since June 2010, after weak British industrial production figures raised fears that Europe's third-largest economy was heading for its third recession in a little more than four years. The pound has since settled around the $1.4900 mark.

The Japanese yen was also a focal point once again, as it recovered some of its recent losses. The dollar was 0.7 percent lower at $95.84 yen. The yen earlier fell to a three and a half year low against the dollar on mounting expectations that the Bank of Japan will soon announce a big stimulus program to get the moribund Japanese economy going again.

The reverse in the yen had an impact on the country's main stock index, the Nikkei 225. It did an about-face after spurting higher in the morning. After hitting 12,461.97, an intraday high not seen in more than four years, the benchmark dropped 0.3 percent to close at 12,314.81. That finish put an end to an eight-day winning streak.

The index's moves have hinged on the fortunes of the yen. A lower currency potentially makes the country's exports more competitive in international markets.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 22,890.60. Australia's S&P/ASX dropped 0.6 percent to 5,117.90. South Korea's Kospi shed 0.5 percent to 1,993.34.

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