The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Asian shares soften on gloomy China manufacturing data, stronger yen; Europe also down

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TOKYO - Asian stock markets were mostly lower Friday on lingering concerns over the slowing Chinese economy. European shares also headed for a lacklustre end to the week.

In early trading, Germany's DAX was down 0.2 per cent at 9,613.58 and Britain's FTSE 100 edged down 0.2 per cent to 6,762.66. France's CAC 40 was 0.3 per cent lower at 4,268.42.

U.S. stocks were poised to fall, with Dow futures down 0.3 per cent and broader S&P 500 futures off 0.2 per cent.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 1.9 per cent to close at 15,391.56 on selling of export-related shares as the Japanese yen sank to 103 to the dollar after hovering around 104.50 in recent days.

Investors were also cautious ahead of Monday's release of trade data for December that is expected to show a further widening of Japan's deficit thanks to rising import costs.

But China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.6 per cent to 2,054.39, shrugging off the pall cast Thursday over global markets by HSBC's survey of Chinese factory purchasing managers in January, which indicated a contraction in manfacturing for the first time since July.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 1.3 per cent to 22,450.06 and Seoul's Kospi dropped 0.4 per cent to 1,940.56. Shares in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia sagged.

"Apart from the Shanghai Composite, the rest of the region seems to be struggling to gain traction heading into the weekend," Stan Shamu, a strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia said in a report.

Stocks gained in the Philippines and in Thailand.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude contract for March delivery continued to rise. It was up 37 cents to $97.69 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the U.S. Energy Information Administration confirmed that stockpiles of heating oil and diesel are shrinking as extreme cold has driven up demand.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3685 from $1.3689 late Thursday. The dollar fell to 103.01 yen from 103.45 yen.

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