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Asia stocks fall amid doubts about China growth

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets were mostly lower Thursday, hindered by falling commodity prices and worries about the extent of China's economic slowdown.

But Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose for a third straight day, basking in the ongoing retreat of the yen from record highs against the U.S. dollar. The Nikkei was 0.4 percent higher to 10,091.19.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.1 percent to 21,288.23 and South Korea's Kospi shed 0.2 percent to 2,040.86. Benchmarks in mainland China fell while Indonesia and New Zealand rose.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.4 percent at 4,270.80. Mining and resource-related shares that depend on Chinese demand were hurt after Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday that controls to cool surging housing prices would remain in place.

BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, fell 1.7 percent. Newcrest Mining Ltd. plummeted 3.8 percent.

"Investors' focus shifted to China growth concerns, after Premier Wen made some fairly negative comments about the property market," said Stan Shamu, market analyst at IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia. "This is likely to see recent government curbs on property speculation stay in place."

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 wrote in an email. Production is "growing but not rapidly and it's not accelerating."

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent to 13,194.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.1 percent to 1,394.28. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.03 percent to 3,040.73.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was up 32 cents to $105.75 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 $1.3027 from $1.3024 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 84.05 from 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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