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US, European markets fall on weaker China data; Asia upbeat as North Korea rocket launch fails
MILAN (AP) ' U.S. and European stocks slipped Friday on weak Chinese economic data and persistent tensions in eurozone debt markets, while Asian markets were buoyed by a botched North Korean missle test.
Concerns about the prospects for global growth remained the market focus after official data in China showed its economy grew at an 8.1 percent pace in January-March, its slowest in nearly three years.
Although Asian investors brushed off the news on hopes the country would provide more economic stimulus, European markets gave it more weight. As the world's largest exporter, China is a bellwhether for global economic growth, which European countries desperately need to heal their public finances.
France's CAC-40 dropped 1.5 percent to 3,220.98, while Germany's DAX shed 1.2 percent to 6,665.86. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares fell 0.6 percent to 5,677.75.
U.S. stocks also fell on opening, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 63 points at 12,923. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was down more than six points, at 1,381.
"Unimpressive macro newsflow continued, which has kept concerns about global economic prospects at the forefront of the market's mindset," Credit Agricole analysts said.
Helping to weigh on European stocks was continued pressure in bond markets, with yields on Spanish debt inching higher, a sign of investor unease over the country's financial future.
In Asia, markets mostly closed higher as traders were reassured by news that a North Korean rocket exploded soon after takeoff. South Korea's Kospi jumped 1.1 percent to 2,008.91.
Tensions had risen as North Korea pushed ahead with the launch despite protests from the U.S., South Korea and other countries that deemed it a test of missile technology. Pyongyang said it was to put into orbit a satellite commemorating the anniversary of its founder's birth.
Mainland Chinese shares were higher as regional investors saw the GDP figures as proof that the economy would avoid a brusk slowdown and that authorities might clear further measures to boost growth. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index edged up 0.3 percent to 2,359.16. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index added 0.6 percent to 950.91.
"The GDP data is within earlier expectations and both policy and the economy are stable. Even if the slowdown is obvious, growth is still above the government's target," said Li Jianfeng, an analyst at Caida Securities, based in Shanghai. The government's annual growth target is 7.5 percent.
Overall, there was a sense of confidence that China is managing to steer the economy into a slower growth track without veering toward a 'hard landing.'
"Chinese policymakers likely are neither as asleep at the wheel nor as paralyzed by political indecision as global investors seem recently to be fearing," Michael Kurtz of Nomura in Hong Kong said in a report.
In currency markets, the euro fell 0.5 percent to $1.3114 and the dollar inched up to 81.05 Japanese yen.
Concerns persist that high energy prices ' driven in part by unrest in the Middle East ' could weigh on any economic recovery. Benchmark oil was down 45 cents to $103.19 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose by 94 cents to finish at $103.64 on Thursday.
Elaine Kurtenbach and Fu Ting in Shanghai and Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.