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Asian stock markets muted as fall in China inflation weighed against weak Wall Street

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TOKYO - Asian stock markets were subdued Friday as investors weighed a fall in Chinese inflation against a negative cue from Wall Street.

China's inflation eased in April to 1.8 per cent, a possible boost for stock markets since it gives Beijing more leeway to stimulate the slowing Chinese economy if needed.

In a sign of concern over possible job losses, Beijing launched a mini-stimulus in March based on higher spending on building railways and other public works but leaders have so far ruled out bigger efforts.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fluctuated between positive and negative territory. It was flat at 21,841.24 in afternoon trading.

The Nikkei 225 stock average, the major barometer for the Tokyo Stock Exchange, gained 0.3 per cent to 14,199.59. Investors are waiting for more earnings reports, with Nissan and Sony due to release results next week.

Shuji Hosoi, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities Co. in Tokyo, said investors were satisfied that Toyota's results, released Thursday, were strong, with the world's top automaker reporting record profit for the last fiscal year.

But he said there was little other market-driving news to trade on leaving share prices in a stalemate.

"People are relieved about Toyota, but that's not enough for a major rally."

Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi edged up 0.3 per cent to 1,956.55, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.3 per cent to 5,460.80.

On Wall Street, shares finished mostly lower as investors assessed the latest batch of U.S. company earnings and sold utility and energy stocks.

The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.1 per cent to 1,875.63. The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 0.2 per cent to 16,550.97. The Nasdaq composite lost 0.4 per cent to 4,051.50.

The big news in Europe's trading session was comments from the European Central Bank's president, Mario Draghi, who gave a strong hint that the bank may ease its monetary policy next month, sending the euro lower.

Stocks in Europe weren't affected too much by Draghi as the focus remained on a vow from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to maintain low interest rates. Germany's DAX rose 0.9 per cent to finish at 9,607.40 and the CAC-40 in France added 1.4 per cent to 4,507.24. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.6 per cent to 6,839.25.

Benchmark U.S. crude for June delivery was up 33 cents at $100.59 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The fell 51 cents to close at $100.26 on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3826 from $1.3842 late Thursday. The dollar rose to 101.72 yen from 101.62 yen.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama

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