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Asian stocks stagger over China data, Europe drifts

MUMBAI/HONG KONG--Asian stock markets vacillated as investors waited to see if weak Chinese economic data might prompt new economic stimulus. European shares drifted down.

In Europe, Germany's DAX was up 0.2 percent at 9,428.29 in early trading. France's CAC-40 slipped 0.3 percent to 4,373.91 and Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.5 percent to 6,572.85.

The varied trading followed losses on Wall Street the previous day. However, U.S. shares seemed ready for a rebound Thursday. S&P 500 futures were up 0.2 percent at 1,845.40. Dow futures rose 0.2 percent to 16,216.

In Asia, markets were mixed on Thursday, with Japanese shares boosted by a weaker yen, although traders remain on edge over the Crimean crisis.

Asian sentiment appeared to be drifting as investors were unsure whether the recent trend of weak manufacturing in China represented bad news or good news because it might lead to new stimulus measures from Beijing.

Tokyo rallied 1.00 percent, or 145.73 points, to 14,622.89, Seoul climbed 0.70 percent, or 13.66 points, to 1,977.97 but Sydney eased 0.50 percent, or 26.7 points, to 5,350.1.

Hong Kong fell 0.24 percent, or 53.30 points, to finish at 21,834.45 and Shanghai slipped 0.83 percent, or 17.08 points, to 2,046.59.

With few leads for direction, investors were given a lift by better-than expected data on the U.S. retail sector, a key driver of the economy.

The Commerce Department said durable goods orders rose 2.2 percent in February from the previous month, beating forecasts of a 1.0 percent decline.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei bounced back from early losses and the yen dipped against the dollar.

Analysts said the focus is moving to next week's data release, including the Bank of Japan's quarterly Tankan business sentiment survey Tuesday and U.S. nonfarm payrolls on Friday.

Japan's higher sales tax increase also kicks in, with many investors expecting a downturn in sentiment.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed through the controversial sales tax hike as part of a plan to reduce Japan's yawning national debt but critics say it will knock the country's nascent economic recovery off course.

Investors are also keeping an eye on events in Europe after Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine this month.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Russia had moved more troops closer to Ukraine's borders in recent days despite assurances it will not invade.

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