NEW YORK (Reuters) - Global equity markets fell on Thursday after a regional president of the Federal Reserve said the U.S. central bank could begin to ease up on its loose monetary policy this summer, leading the dollar to recover against the euro.
Equities had traded mostly flat to slightly lower during most of the session on reports that U.S. housing, labour and regional business conditions pointed to soft spots in the American economy.
John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, also said the Fed could end its bond-buying program late this year, citing "good news" on the outlook for jobs.
U.S. equities fell on the remarks, which came late in the session, pushing the Dow and S&P 500 lower and forcing a retreat in the Nasdaq, which had been higher on Cisco's earnings.
"Williams' remarks are taken as meaningless stimulus, which is good for the dollar, but not good for stocks or the euro," said Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management in New York.
The dollar rebounded against the euro to trade flat at 1.2886. A moribund equity market pushed lower on the news.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 42.47 points, or 0.28 percent, at 15,233.22. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 8.31 points, or 0.50 percent, at 1,650.47. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 6.37 points, or 0.18 percent, at 3,465.24.
Shares of Cisco Systems Inc surged 12.6 percent to $23.89 after the network equipment maker posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and said current-quarter revenue could increase.
Gold hit a four-week low and declined for a sixth straight day for the first time in more than four years as investors spooked by recent price falls favoured other assets.
Spot gold prices fell $6.08 to $1,386.20 an ounce.
Data stirred negative sentiment about the U.S. economy.
Factory activity contracted in the mid-Atlantic region in May, ground-breaking for new homes tumbled in April and new claims for jobless benefits spiked last week, according to three separate reports.
Coupled with soft underlying inflation, the data suggested weak demand as the U.S. economy entered the second quarter. The data had curbed expectations the Fed would scale back its asset-buying program, which has bolstered the equity market.
"The data today was broadly weak and overall it drives home the fact that the economic backdrop remains uneven," said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.
Ground-breaking for new U.S. homes plummeted more than expected in April, the Commerce Department said, while the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said its index of business conditions in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region fell.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits climbed last week at the fastest pace in six months, the Labor Department said, confounding analysts' expectations for a more modest increase.
In other data, the U.S. Consumer Price Index posted the biggest decline since December 2008, indicating inflation pressure remains tame and giving the Fed latitude to maintain its current monetary policy.
MSCI's world equity index fell 0.3 percent, pulled lower by Williams' remarks, while the FTSE Eurofirst 300 index of top European shares edged down 0.02 percent to close at 1,245.45.
U.S. Treasuries prices advanced and German Bund futures jumped the most in six weeks as the U.S. data raised worries about the economy and underscored the lack of price pressures.
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 17/32 in price to yield 1.8792 percent. German Bund futures jumped 67 ticks to settle at 145.31, its biggest daily gain since March 27.
Oil prices had settled by the time Williams' remarks were released.
Oil prices rose but Brent oil futures remained below $104 a barrel as the soft U.S. economic data added to a bearish outlook on demand.
Brent settled 12 cents higher at $103.80 a barrel, while U.S. oil gained 86 cents to settle at $95.16.