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Asian markets decline on Europe concerns

Joe Mcdonald, AP Business Writer

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, an investor supports his head with a hand while looking at an electric stock price display at a trading hall in a securities firm in Shanghai, China, as the Shanghai Composite Index plummeted 3 percent to 2,325.95 Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. It was the index's biggest loss in almost 15 months. World stock markets tumbled Thursday after U.S. Federal Reserve minutes gave investors an unwelcome reminder that super-easy monetary policy has an expiration date. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Ding Ding) NO SALES

BEIJING (AP) -- Asian stock markets fell Friday following weak economic data from Europe and moves by China's government to cool inflation pressures.

Oil rose to just above $93 a barrel despite Wall Street's overnight decline and higher U.S. jobless numbers.

The Asian heavyweight, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index, fell 0.5 percent to 11,252.41 while in the region's biggest economy, China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.1 percent to 2,323.72. Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei also suffered declines.

Australia was the region's only major gainer, with the ASX/S&P 200 rising 1.1 percent to 5,033.50, recovering from Thursday's 2.3 percent plunge.

The Shanghai index slid 3 percent Thursday for its biggest decline in 15 months after Beijing announced new measures to cool politically sensitive housing costs. Also this week, the central bank drained liquidity from markets in a sign it is trying to restrain pressure for prices to rise as the economy gradually recovers.

"Policy will try to sharply slow availability of funds in the economy," said Credit Agricole CIB economist Dariusz Kowalczyk in a report.

Asian markets followed European bourses down after weaker-than-expected industrial data from heavyweight economies France and Germany. France's CAC-40 tumbled 2.3 percent on Thursday and markets in Germany, Britain and Italy suffered marked declines.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.7 percent to 22,746.37, Seoul's Kospi was off 0.2 percent at 2,010.81 and Taipei's Taiex lost 0.4 percent to 7,921.08. Singapore fell 0.3 percent.

U.S. markets were rattled by Wednesday's release of notes from the Fed's last policy meeting that suggested some policymakers were worried about the cost of its monetary stimulus.

That sparked concern the Fed might wind down asset purchases, though some analysts suggested such fears were overblown.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose 20,000 last week to 362,000 but said longer-term, the job market appears to be improving.

The Dow Jones industrial average declined 0.5 percent and the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.6 percent.

The benchmark price of crude for April delivery was up 36 cents to $93.20 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.24, or 2.4 percent, to $92.98 on Thursday, the second drop of 2 percent in two days.

In currency markets, the dollar fell to 93.15 yen from 93.26 yen late Thursday. The euro was up slightly at $1.320.