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Markets kept in check by poor data in China, Japan

LONDON/HONG KONG--The mood in financial markets steadied Monday despite earlier big losses in Asia following disappointing Chinese and Japanese economic data.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 6,710 while Germany's DAX fell 0.5 percent at 9,307. The CAC-40 in France bucked the prevailing trend to trade 0.3 percent higher at 4,381.

Wall Street was poised for a subdued opening too with both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.1 percent.

Asian markets tumbled on Monday following a surprisingly poor batch of economic data out of China, while revised Japanese figures showed 2013 growth was slower than expected.

The losses came after healthy gains on most bourses last week and despite jobs growth in the United States, while investors are keeping an eye on events in Ukraine as leaders try to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Tokyo slipped 1.01 percent, or 153.93 points, to 15,120.14, Sydney fell 0.93 percent, or 50.8 points, to 5,411.5 and Seoul was 1.03 percent lower, giving up 20.26 points, to end at 1,954.42.

Shanghai dived 2.86 percent, or 58.84 points, to 1,999.07 while Hong Kong sank 1.75 percent, or 395.56 points, to 22,264.93.

Beijing said Saturday it had seen an unexpected trade deficit of US$22.98 billion in February.

The figure compared with a surplus of US$14.8 billion in the same month last year, and a median forecast of an US$11.9 billion surplus. Exports fell 18.1 percent and imports jumped 10.1 percent.

“It's hard to ignore a number that looks like that,” said Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac Institutional Bank in Sydney.

Those figures were followed the next day by news that inflation eased to 2.0 percent in February, down from 2.5 percent in January, leading to talk of possible deflation, which could delay much-needed investment and consumer spending.

While authorities blame the country's holiday season for the weak results, they add to growing worries about the Chinese economy, with the latest surveys on its key manufacturing sector showing weakness.

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