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Europe muted, Asian stocks mostly higher as China inflation remains steady

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - European stocks were muted but Asian markets mostly gained Friday after China's inflation was steady in January, leaving its government room to stimulate the economy if a slowdown worsens.

In Europe, trade was lacklustre ahead of the release of fourth quarter growth figures.

Britain's FTSE 100 index eased 0.1 per cent to 6,653.75 and the CAC-40 in France fell 0.1 per cent to 4,309.17. Germany's DAX rose 0.1 per cent to 9,606.95.

DBS Group said the combined economy of nations that use the euro likely grew year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2013, its first expansion after seven straight quarters of contraction. It said the eurozone economy likely contracted 0.5 per cent for the full year, slightly better than a 0.6 per cent decline in 2012.

Futures pointed to a weak start on Wall Street. Standard & Poor's 500 futures and Dow Jones futures shed 0.2 per cent each.

In Asia, China's consumer prices rose 2.5 per cent over a year earlier in January, unchanged from December's rate. The rise in politically sensitive food costs decelerated to 3.7 per cent from December's 4.1 per cent.

Lower inflation is one less distraction for communist leaders as they focus on carrying out ambitious promises of reforms aimed at making China's economy more productive and keeping incomes rising.

China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.8 per cent to 2,115.85 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.6 per cent to 22,298.41.

South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7 per cent to 1,940.28. But Japan's Nikkei 225 dropped 1.5 per cent to 14,313.03 as the yen strengthened against the dollar, a negative for share prices of exporters.

Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was down 50 cents at $99.85 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract eased 2 cents to close at $100.35 on Thursday.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.3685 from $1.3676 late Thursday. The dollar fell to 101.97 yen from 102.34 yen.

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