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Asian stocks unsteady amid mixed China data

By Elaine Kurtenbach

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 1 2012 12:15 a.m. MST

A masked man is reflected on an electronic stock board at a securities firm in central Tokyo, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012. Asian stock markets fell Monday, with slower-than-expected growth in the U.S. and uncertainty about a tentative deal to resolve Greece's debt crisis weighing on investor sentiment.

Koji Sasahara, Associated Press

SHANGHAI — Asian stocks mixed Wednesday, as a modest improvement in manufacturing data from China offered reassurance over its economic slowdown.

Benchmark oil hovered below $99 per barrel while the dollar rose against the euro and was steady against the yen.

A better-than-expected manufacturing index for January, issued by a government federation, fueled an early rally in most markets across the region. But much of the advance was lost after the later release of a competing, seasonally adjusted survey by HSBC that indicated conditions were still deteriorating.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 edged up less than 0.1 percent to close at 8,809.79. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.4 percent to 20,314.21 while Seoul's Kospi added 0.2 percent to 1,959.24.

By afternoon, shares in mainland China had retreated back into negative territory, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index shedding 1.2 percent to 2,265.49.

An unexpected drop in U.S. consumer confidence dragged stocks down overnight on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones industrial average lost 20.81 points, or 0.2 percent, to 12,632.91. The S&P slipped 0.60 point to 1,312.41 while the Nasdaq composite index rose 1.90 points to close at 2,813.84.

Overall, though, U.S. shares had their best start in 15 years, thanks to a modest improvement in the economy. Sentiment was further buoyed by hopes of progress in Europe after leaders there agreed on the broad outlines of a deal to tie the countries that use the euro closer together and on hopes that Greece is close to a debt-reduction deal with private creditors.

Yet, the mixed signals from China compounded uncertainties still weighing on investor confidence. That is true especially for Australia, whose economy depends heavily on Chinese demand for its coal and other commodities.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.9 percent to 4,225.70 while India's Sensex dropped 0.7 percent to 17,079.29.

Singapore shares also were lower, while Taiwan, Indonesia and New Zealand gained ground.

Benchmark oil for March delivery gained 15 cents to $98.63 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 30 cents to end at $98.48 per barrel in New York on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3038 from $1.3084 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar was nearly unchanged at 76.21 yen.

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