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World stocks mostly lower as economic fears weigh

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[February 27, 2009]  HONG KONG (AP) -- Asian stock markets were narrowly mixed Friday, with Japan's benchmark up 1.5 percent, as persistent worries about the deteriorating world economy and financial system sidelined many investors. European shares fell.

Trade was listless throughout much of Asia after a bruising, volatile month that saw the region's export-driven economies sank deeper into recession amid collapsing demand and their currencies wither.

HardwareSentiment was buoyed somewhat by reports slumping banking giant Citigroup, which has already taken billions in government aid, was nearing a deal to give the U.S. an ever bigger ownership stake, as much as 40 percent. Combined with more bailout measures in Britain and shake-ups at European banks, the agreement lifted some financial shares in Japan and elsewhere.

But most investors appeared to be holding back as the onslaught of negative news about the global economy showed no signs of letting up.

The recession's toll on the world's largest companies widened Thursday as Royal Bank of Scotland and General Motors Corp. reported billions more in losses.

And in Asia Friday, figures showed that Japan's industrial production plunged a record 10 percent in January from December as manufacturers continued to slash output. Household spending and retail sales also fell. India's economic growth sputtered to a worse-than-expected 5.3 percent in the last quarter from the previous year.

Until there was evidence sweeping government measures to jump-start the global economy were starting to take effect, equities markets were likely to remain lackluster, traders said.

"Confidence remains really beaten up," said Miles Remington, head of Asian sales trading at BNP Paribas Securities in Hong Kong. "Internationally the picture is very negative. A lot of people are very happy to be sitting on the sidelines."

The Nikkei 225 stock average rose 110.49 points, or 1.5 percent, to 7,568.42 -- but finished the month down nearly 4 percent to extend this year's losses to almost 15 percent.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng pulled back 83.37 points, or 0.7 percent, to 12,880.89 in a back-and-forth session. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.8 percent to 1,063.03.

Elsewhere, China's Shanghai benchmark dropped 1.8 percent, wrapping up the market's worst week this year, as enthusiasm over government stimulus measures waned.

India's slumping economic growth figures sent the country's main index down 0.7 percent. Singapore sank, Taiwan gained.

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As trading got under way in Europe, benchmarks in Britain, Germany and France were each lower by 1.5 percent or more.

Earlier in the day, selected Asian financials got support as news about the Citigroup deal, expected to be announced in the U.S. later Friday, ease fears about the financial sector. Japan's Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., the country's largest bank, rose 2.7 percent. South Korea's KB Financial Group Inc. jumped 6.5 percent.

After trading ended, Sony Corp. said its president was stepping down -- adding to the string of Japanese companies hoping to fight the global slowdown with renewed leadership. The stock rose 2 percent.

In the U.S., major stock indexes gave up early leads to close lower, with health care stocks bearing the brunt of the selling. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 88.81, or 1.2 percent, to 7,182.08. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 12.07, or 1.6 percent.

U.S. stock index futures were down slightly. Dow futures were down 8 points at 7,170, while S&P futures were down 0.6 point at 751.4.

In currencies, the dollar shed some if its recent gains, falling to 97.36 yen from 98.27 yen. The euro slipped to $1.2666 from $1.2710.

Oil prices weakened in Asian trade after an overnight rally. Light, sweet crude for April delivery down $1.08 at $44.14 a barrel. On Thursday, the contract jumped $2.72, or 6.4 percent, to settle at $45.22 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

[Associated Press; By JEREMIAH MARQUEZ]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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