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Asia stocks fall after Japan industry output falls

An investor looks at the stock price monitor at a private securities company Thursday, March 22, 2012, in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets fell Thursday after mixed U.S. housing data and disappointment over the limited scope of China's latest monetary loosening maneuver kept investors on the sidelines. An investor looks at the stock price monitor at a private securities company Thursday, March 22, 2012, in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets fell Thursday after mixed U.S. housing data and disappointment over the limited scope of China's latest monetary loosening maneuver kept investors on the sidelines. (AP Photo)
By Pamela Sampson
AP Business Writer / March 29, 2012
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BANGKOK—Asian stock markets drifted lower Friday, as nervous investors turned their focus to China after digesting a report showing a slowdown in Japanese industrial production.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo fell 0.2 percent to 10,098.98 after the government released data showing Japan's factory production fell a worse-than-expected 1.2 percent in February -- its first decline in three months.

There was also nervousness ahead of the release Sunday of China's purchasing managers index, or PMI, a key gauge of manufacturing growth. China's PMI has steadily risen since December. But Dariusz Kowalczyk, a senior economist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong, said he expected to see a modest decline for March.

In an email, Kowalzcyk wrote that "the number is likely to come in below consensus and suggest that manufacturing growth will remain weak in the near term. This will sustain concerns over whether China's landing remains soft."

Investors also fretted about Europe. On Thursday, markets across the continent fell as workers took to the streets of Spain to protest spending cuts.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.8 percent to 20,448.97 while South Korea's Kospi index was down less than 0.1 percent at 2,013.42. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4 percent to 4,353.40.

Shares of Hong Kong-listed Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the country's biggest state-owned lender, jumped 1.8 percent after the bank said its 2011 profit increased 26.2 percent despite a slowing economy and government lending controls.

Benchmark oil for May delivery rose 68 cents to $103.46 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract finished the day at $102.78, having plunged $2.63.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.3352 from $1.3287 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 82.06 yen from 82.40 yen.

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