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posted: 12/10/2012 7:21 AM

World stocks stall after Monti says he will resign

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Associated Press

BANGKOK -- Rising factory output in China and better-than-expected U.S. hiring helped lift Asian stock markets modestly on Monday, but European shares slumped after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti's announcement that he intends to resign by the end of the year.

Widely credited with restoring confidence in Italy amid a debt crisis, Monti said over the weekend that he found it impossible to lead after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, Parliament's largest, dropped its support.

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Berlusconi resigned as premier last year amid sex scandals and legal woes, unable to convince international markets that he could balance Italy's budget and pass necessary financial reforms to save Italy from a Greek-style debt crisis.

Monti, a respected economist and former European Union competition commissioner, was tapped to head a government of technocrats to guide Italy.

The announcement "has thrown a new uncertain element into the political maelstrom in Europe," Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets, said in an email commentary.

European stocks fell in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 was down 0.1 percent to 5,910.28. Germany's DAX lost 0.3 percent at 7,495.58. France's CAC-40 dropped 0.3 percent to 3,594.14. Wall Street appeared headed for a lower open, with Dow Jones industrial futures dipping 0.1 percent to 13,124. S&P 500 futures shed about 0.2 percent to 1,413.90.

Investors were slightly more emboldened to weigh into riskier assets in Asia after China reported that factory output increased 10.1 percent from a year earlier in November, a sign of recovery in the world's No. 2 economy. The inflation rate rose to 2 percent, slightly below the projected 2.1 percent, the government said Sunday.

"I think China's economy has turned the corner, so that's why the market is going up," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.1 percent to close at 9,533.75. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.4 percent to 22,276.72. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.1 percent to 4,557.90. South Korea's Kospi was nearly unchanged at 1,957.42.

The China data followed the release Friday of U.S. government figures showing that employers added 146,000 jobs in November, beating economists' estimates. The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent, although that was mainly because more people gave up looking for work.

Budget negotiations are continuing between the White House and the U.S. Congress in order to reach a deal before the economy hits a "fiscal cliff" -- a series of sharp government spending cuts and the expiration of tax cuts that begin to kick in Jan. 1 and could cause a recession.

President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner met Sunday to discuss the budget. No details were released, but there was speculation that Republicans were getting close to granting a key concession. Obama has demanded higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help reduce the budget deficit. For their part, Republicans are demanding steeper cuts in costly welfare programs.

"Talks between the administration and senior Republicans will continue this week but it appears that some senior Republicans are willing to give up their objections to tax hikes on the very wealthy," said analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

Among individual stocks, Australia's Southern Cross Media Group plummeted 5.9 percent. The group owns the Sydney radio station whose DJs, impersonating Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, called the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for acute morning sickness and obtained confidential information. The nurse who took the call was found dead days later, prompting an investigation.

Hopes that China's economic slowdown has bottomed out helped lift a broad range of stocks. Hong Kong-listed GOME Electrical Appliances rose 3.8 percent. Evergrande Real Estate Group surged 3.5 percent.

In Wall Street trading Friday, a decline of more than 2 percent in Apple Inc. stock held back the Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite, both of which include Apple.

Apple's stock has been falling for weeks as investors worry that the company can't maintain the sales momentum of its hugely popular iPhones and iPads. Those worries were felt Monday on Taiwan's TAIEX, where Foxconn Technology fell 2 percent. Foxconn employs 1.2 million people in China to assemble products for Apple Inc. and other global companies.

Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 28 cents to $86.21 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 33 cents to finish at $85.93 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2905 from $1.2926 in New York on Friday. The dollar fell to 82.34 yen from 82.40 yen.

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