World stocks mixed amid doubts about China growth

World stock markets mixed ahead of US data as Chinese growth weighs on market sentiment

Associated Press
Markets steady despite more positive US news
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Pedestrians are reflected on the electric signboard of a securities firm in Tokyo, updating exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to Japanese yen, top, and that of the Euro to yen, bottom, Thursday, March 15, 2012. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose for a third straight day Thursday, basking in the ongoing retreat of the yen from record highs against the U.S. dollar. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

BANGKOK (AP) -- World stocks were mixed Thursday, hindered by worries about the extent of China's slowdown as markets awaited new economic indicators from the U.S.

Benchmark oil remained below $106 per barrel while the dollar was lower against the euro but was steady against the yen.

Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.1 percent to 5,937.28. Germany's DAX rose 0.4 percent to 7,103.35 while France's CAC-40 added 0.1 percent to 3,567.99.

Wall Street was poised to open higher, with Dow Jones industrial futures rising 0.1 percent to 13,145 while S&P industrial futures gained 0.2 percent to 1,391.30.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index, basking in the ongoing retreat of the yen from record highs against the U.S. dollar, rose 0.7 percent to 10,123.28 — its highest close since late July. Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed 0.2 percent higher to 21,353.53.

But mainland Chinese shares fell, a day after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said curbs that have started to cool surging housing prices will remain in place despite complaints they might worsen an economic slowdown. Construction and real estate sales are key drivers of China's growth.

"That signaled that the control measures will not be relaxed for the China property market, and also the market's expectation that China will further relax its monetary policy will not happen," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.7 percent to 2,373.77 and the Shenzhen Composite Index shed 0.8 percent to 960.96. Poly Real Estate, China's second-largest developer, lost 2.6 percent. Anhui Conch Cement Co., China's largest cement producer, dropped 4.2 percent.

South Korea's Kospi fell marginally to 2,043.76 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 closed down 0.2 percent at 4,277.80.

Australian mining and resource-related shares that depend on Chinese demand were hurt by Wen's comments. BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, fell 1.2 percent. OZ Minerals Ltd. dropped 2.6 percent.

Meanwhile, gold shares fell after the price of the precious metal plummeted Wednesday as the Federal Reserve's more optimistic outlook for the economy dimmed gold's safe haven status. Zijin Mining Group, China's largest gold miner, tumbled 2.4 percent. Newcrest Mining Ltd., a top Australian gold miner, fell 3.3 percent.

India's Sensex fell 1.3 percent to 17,679.09 after the country's central bank kept its key interest rate on hold, warning that inflation remains a risk despite slowing growth in Asia's third largest economy.

Japanese companies that rely heavily on exports for survival racked up substantial gains. Ricoh Co. soared 7.9 percent, while Mazda Motor Corp. jumped 6.1 percent and Honda Motor Corp. added 3.5 percent. They and other companies were helped by a weaker yen, which increases the value of expatriated profits and helps make Japanese goods less expensive overseas.

In the U.S., markets are expecting a "very subdued number" when industrial production figures for February are released later in the week, analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a report. Production is "growing but not rapidly and it's not accelerating."

But the number of people in the U.S. seeking unemployment benefits likely declined last week, adding to evidence that the job market is strengthening.

Economists forecast that weekly applications dipped 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 358,000, according to a survey by FactSet. The U.S. Labor Department will release the report Thursday.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 4 cents to $105.39 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.28 to settle at $105.43 per barrel in New York on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3051 from $1.3024 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar was steady at 83.72 yen. The Japanese currency has been weakening against the dollar ever since the Bank of Japan increased its economic stimulus program in February.

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AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.

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