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World stock markets plateau ahead of US data
World stock markets hit plateau as traders evaluate US economic data
By The Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) ' World stock markets hit a plateau Friday as many investors waited on the sidelines ahead of the release of more economic data from the U.S.

Benchmark oil remained above $105 per barrel while the dollar rose against the yen and the euro.

After solid gains recently, investors paused to evaluate the latest economic news out of the world's biggest economy showing fewer claims for unemployment. They also looked ahead to upcoming indicators. U.S. industrial production figures for February are due to be released later Friday.

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. fell last week to 351,000 ' matching a four-year low. That's a sign that the job market is improving. In addition, manufacturing activity in New York rose to a 21-month high and in Philadelphia to a nearly one-year high.

European stocks opened slightly higher. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent to 5,950.39. Germany's DAX added 0.1 percent to 7,152.44 and France's CAC-40 was nearly unchanged at 3,580.69.

Wall Street appeared headed for a muted open, with Dow Jones industrial futures slightly higher at 13,176. S&P 500 futures were flat at 1,396.

Asian shares took a breather following a strong run earlier this week.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed slightly higher at 10,129.83 after morning profit-taking sent the benchmark into negative territory. The Nikkei has clocked a week of gains largely due to the yen's retreat from record highs against the dollar.

Mainland Chinese shares advanced with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gaining 1.3 percent to 2,404.74. Shares in furniture and wine producers, hotels, travel and food-related companies led the advance, while shares in real estate and financial companies weakened.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.2 percent to 21,317.85 and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.5 percent to 2,034.44. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was slightly down at 4,276.20. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia fell.

Hong Kong stocks sagged after the Bank of Communications, China's fifth-largest lender, announced it will issue shares to meet requirements for capital adequacy by China's banking regulator.

The prospect of other banks possibly following suit made investors anxious, according to Francis Lun, managing director at Lyncean Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong.

"It is rumored that several other banks will follow," Lun said. Such actions mean "you will dilute existing shareholders: More shareholders, so you will get less in return."

Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the world's biggest bank by market value, shed 0.8 percent. Agricultural Bank of China lost 0.5 percent.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was up 33 cents to $105.44 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 32 cents to settle at $105.11 per barrel in New York on Thursday.

The euro fell to $1.3066 from $1.3097 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 83.75 from 83.38 yen. The greenback rose to as high as 84.175 yen overnight Thursday, its highest point against the yen since April 13.


Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson


AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.

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