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Asian stock markets mixed after worse-then-expected orders for US long-lasting factory goods

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BANGKOK - Asia's major stock markets logged slight gains Thursday but smaller indexes slipped after U.S. corporations reported mixed earnings and orders for U.S. durable goods fell.

The U.S. government reported Wednesday that orders for long-lasting factory goods fell more than economists expected. That added to concerns that global growth is slowing. Orders for durable goods declined 5.7 per cent in March following a 4.3 per cent gain the previous month. The March figure was the biggest dip in seven months.

"A weaker than expected reading for March US durable goods orders maintained a run of weaker than expected US data releases, reinforcing concerns of an economic slowdown over coming months," said Mitul Kotecha at Credit Agricole CIB in a market commentary.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.1 per cent to 13,862.86. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.3 per cent to 22,257.63. South Korea's Kospi advanced 0.5 per cent to 1,944.03. But benchmark indexes in mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines fell. Markets in Australia and New Zealand were closed for public holidays.

Stocks in Europe posted gains Wednesday investors grew more hopeful of an interest rate cut from the European Central Bank after another weak business survey for Germany, Europe's biggest economy.

The Ifo Institute said its main index of business optimism fell to 104.4 points from 106.7 in March. Market analysts had expected a more modest decline to 106.2.

European markets have also been buoyed in recent days by progress in Italy to produce a government after inconclusive elections in February.

On Wall Street, however, disappointment over durable goods order was compounded by quarterly results that included a subscriber slump at AT&T and a weak profit forecast from Procter & Gamble.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 per cent to close at 14,676.30. The Standard& Poor's 500 index was flat at 1,578.79. The Nasdaq composite rose marginally to 3,269.65.

Benchmark oil for June delivery was up 45 cents to $91.88 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $2.25, or 2.5 per cent, to finish at $91.43 a barrel Wednesday on the Nymex.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3046 from $1.3021 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 99.41 yen from 99.51 yen.

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