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Asia stocks fall as big economies show fatigue

By Pamela Sampson

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 22 2012 9:30 p.m. MDT

An investor looks at the stock price monitor at a private securities company Thursday, March 22, 2012, in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets fell Thursday after mixed U.S. housing data and disappointment over the limited scope of China's latest monetary loosening maneuver kept investors on the sidelines. (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

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BANGKOK — Asian stock markets fell Friday, dragged down by reports of a manufacturing slowdown in China and a deepening economic malaise in Europe.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index dropped 1 percent to 10,027.72 as the country's formidable export sector faded amid fears of slowing overseas demand.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.9 percent to 20,712.70 and South Korea's Kospi shed 0.3 percent to 2,019.79.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.2 percent to 4,264.50 as the country's mining and resource shares took a pounding over worries of reduced demand from China, the world's biggest consumer of raw materials.

BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, lost 1.3 percent in Sydney. Steel makers also took a hit. South Korea's POSCO lost 0.9 percent while Japan's JFE Holdings dropped 2.2 percent.

On Thursday, data showed China's manufacturing is contracting. An index compiled by HSBC fell to 48.1 in March from 49.6 in February. Figures below 50 indicate that manufacturing is shrinking.

That's a negative sign because growth in China has played a key role in shoring up the global economy since the financial crisis of 2008.

And in another sign of cooling growth in the world's No. 2 economy, new home prices dropped in 45 Chinese cities in February as the government implemented measures to cool property speculation.

Worries about China's deceleration were compounded by a survey Thursday showing slower growth in Europe. An index of economic activity from financial information company Markit fell to 48.8 in March from 49.3 a month earlier. The index combines both the services and manufacturing.

Japanese exporters whose fortunes are closely linked with European demand came under pressure. Honda Motor Corp. lost 2.3 percent and Mazda Motor Corp. shed 2.1 percent. Sharp Corp. slid 2.9 percent and Sony Corp. lost 2.6 percent.

A rare gainer was Japanese food processor Yukiguni Maitake Co., which rose 0.6 percent a day after announcing a study showed that maitake mushrooms might help fight obesity, Kyodo News reported.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was up 17 cents to $105.52 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.92 to finish at $105.35 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3198 from $1.3181 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 82.88 yen from 82.59 yen.

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