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Worlda stocks down as euro debt woes multiply
World stock markets falter as investors worry about health of Europe banks
By The Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) ' Asian stock markets fell Friday as signs of financial stress emerged in Italy and Hungary, but European shares turned higher as attention turned to the impeding release of monthly jobs data showing gains in U.S. employment.

Benchmark oil stood above $102 per barrel while the dollar fell against the euro and remained steady with the yen.

Stocks on European bourses rose ahead of the release of data showing that the U.S. job market was strengthening. Analysts are projecting hiring gains when the U.S. Labor Department issues the December jobs report. That would mark a six-month stretch in which the economy generated 100,000 jobs or more in each month.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent at 5,636.12. Germany's DAX rose 0.5 percent to 6,123.20. France's CAC-40 rose 0.7 percent to 3,167.75. Ahead of the opening bell on Wall Street, Dow Jones futures rose 0.1 percent to 12,345 and S&P 500 futures gained slightly to 1,274.

Asian indexes ended mostly lower amid worries over the health of Europe's banks and fears that the continent's debt crisis might be spreading beyond a handful of small economies.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Index closed 1.2 percent lower at 8,390.35. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 1.2 percent at 18,593.06. South Korea's Kospi fell 1.1 percent to 1,843.14. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Indonesia also fell. India and Singapore rose.

In mainland China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.7 percent to 2,163.39, while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index gained 0.5 percent to 817.78. Shares in cement, steel, nonferrous metals, coal mining and securities companies led gains.

Developments on Thursday magnified fears that Europe's debt crisis ' which dominated so many of 2011's financial headlines ' was flaring anew.

Trading in UniCredit, Italy's largest bank, was halted after the stock lost a quarter of its value. The bank said Wednesday that it would need to offer huge discounts to investors to raise money in a new share sale.

Hungary, meanwhile, had to pay a staggeringly high interest rate of 10 percent on its 12-month debt. That is far above the 7 percent level that forced Greece and Portugal to seek emergency bailouts to prevent them from defaulting on their debts. The development hurt investment confidence, analysts said.

"We are trading on that sentiment today," said Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong. "Europe is still the main drag on the market. People want to take some profits off the table."

Chinese building and property shares slumped. Hong Kong-listed Anhui Conch Cement Co. plummeted 5 percent, while China Resources Cement Holdings Ltd. dropped 5.3 percent. China National Building Material Co. lost 5.8 percent.

Chinese developers have been hurt by government lending and investment curbs imposed to rein in surging housing costs. A private research firm reported Wednesday that housing sale prices fell in December for a fourth straight month.

Japanese export shares were also hurt as the euro currency plunged against the yen. A strong yen cuts into repatriated profits and makes Japanese products more expensive overseas. Yamaha Motor Co. fell 3.3 percent while Nissan Motor Co. fell 2.2 percent. Sony Corp. lost 2 percent.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi expressed concern about the euro's weakness against the yen.

"I am carefully monitoring the market. It is also important to monitor the movements from a long-term perspective."

The euro's weakness ' and yen's strength ' could have a "considerable impact" on Japan's exporters, he said.

Benchmark oil for February delivery rose 42 cents to $102.23 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell by $1.41 to end Thursday at $101.81 in New York.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.2805 from $1.2782 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was steady at 77.18 yen.

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