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Asia stocks mixed amid doubts about China growth

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

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

Benchmark oil remained below $106 per barrel while the dollar rose against the yen but slipped against the euro.

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 0.9 percent higher to 10,144.48.

But Hong Kong and 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.

South Korea's Kospi rose less than 0.1 percent to 2,046.28, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.3 percent at 4,276.30.

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 1.7 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 3.6 percent. Newcrest Mining Ltd., a top Australian gold miner, fell 3.8 percent.

Japanese companies that rely heavily on exports for survival racked up substantial gains. Ricoh Co. soared 7 percent, while Mazda Motor Corp. jumped 4.6 percent and Honda Motor Corp. added 3 percent. Canon Inc. climbed 4.1 percent.

Those 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 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 47 cents to $105.90 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 $1.3028 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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