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Asian markets down on Japan data, shrugging off Wall Street's record high

MUMBAI, India - Asian stock markets were lower Friday, shrugging off Wall Street's record high and focusing instead on Japanese economic numbers indicating further stimulus might be needed and the turmoil in Ukraine.

Japan's Nikkei 225, the regional heavyweight, dropped 1.1 per cent to 14,769.25 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged down 0.1 per cent at 22,803.22. China's Shanghai Composite Index fell by 1 per cent to 2,123.01 and Australia's S&P/ASX shed 0.1 per cent to 5,403.90.

The lacklustre trading came after S&P 500 reached an all-time high Thursday, powered by strong earnings from a number of U.S. companies. The index rose 9.13 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 1,854.29. Its previous record high close was 1,848.38, set on Jan. 15.

The enthusiasm did not, however, carry over into Asia on Friday.

"Asia has been fairly subdued today, despite the warm lead from Wall Street, and while a number of traders are starting to look more closely at the ever-changing dynamic in the Ukraine, Japan has been the central focus for macro traders today," IG chief strategist Chris Weston said in a market commentary.

A raft of Japanese data released Friday suggested the economy needs still more help in weathering a 3 per cent sales tax increase in April as many economists forecast a contraction will follow as consumers and businesses adjust to higher costs.

South Korea's Kospi was down 0.2 per cent at 1,974.36. India's Sensex added 0.3 per cent to 21,059.02.

In Europe, jitters over the Ukraine crisis saw Germany's DAX closing down 0.8 per cent at 9,588.33 on Thursday while the CAC-40 in France ended flat at 4,396.39. Britain's FTSE 100 managed to eke out a gain, closing 0.2 per cent higher at 6,810.27.

Investors are concerned that the crisis in Ukraine was taking a more dangerous turn following reports Thursday that pro-Russia gunmen seized control of local government buildings in Crimea. Russia, meanwhile, scrambled fighter jets to patrol its border and reportedly gave shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president.

Over the past couple of weeks, investors had monitored developments in Ukraine with a degree of nonchalance. Now they are worrying that Russia may be drawn in. Geopolitical concerns tend to prompt investors to search out the sanctuary of safe haven assets such as gold and the dollar in place of stocks.

The price of crude oil dropped, with benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery down 43 cents to $101.97 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currency dealings, the euro fell to $1.3697 from $1.3707 on Thursday. The dollar fell to 101.61 from 102.05 yen.

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