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updated: 3/11/2013 6:51 AM

Markets sluggish after Chinese data dump

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Associated Press

LONDON -- Markets have started the week sluggishly Monday as investors pause for breath following a dash that's seen the Dow Jones index in the U.S. record a series of all-time highs.

Chinese economic figures over the weekend were largely disappointing and prompted many investors to book some recent gains and take to the sidelines after a rally that's seen many stock indexes around the world push up to multi-year highs following a strong start to the year.

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The soft Chinese industrial production and retail sales figures stoked some concerns that the recent pick-up in the country's growth rate may have stalled. In addition, higher than expected inflation of 3.2 percent in February raised questions about the government's ability to do more to shore up the world's number 2 economy.

Still, the numbers did not prompt a wholesale re-evaluation partly because they were likely impacted by the country's Lunar New Year holiday period.

"Some caution is needed given distortions caused by the Lunar New Year holiday, so it may take a few more months of data to get a clearer picture," said Elsa Lignos, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 6,438 while Germany's DAX fell 0.3 percent to 7,966. The CAC-40 in France was 0.4 percent lower at 3,826.

Italian shares underperformed their peers, with the Milan exchange 0.7 percent lower as investors wait to see if a government can be forged following inconclusive elections two weeks ago. A downgrade of the country's credit rating from Fitch on Friday also added to the prevailing caution.

Wall Street was poised for a fairly uninspiring opening, with both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.2 percent.

With little on the economic calendar in Europe and the U.S. Monday, stocks may continue to drift especially after last week's historic week on Wall Street which was capped with stronger-than-expected U.S. nonfarm payrolls figures for February.

"It is difficult to find the real catalyst to drive markets much higher in the short term but with equities appearing to be the only show in town any dips could well see a resurgence in buying," said Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor.

The sluggish mood in Monday's trading was evident in the currency markets too, with the euro flat at $1.30 and the dollar barely 0.1 percent higher at 96.11 yen.

Earlier, Asian traders had their first chance to respond to the figures showing the U.S. unemployment rate down at 7.7 percent in February and 236,000 jobs created during the month.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index marched higher for the eighth straight session as the yen slid to a near three and a half year low against the dollar, which got further support from the jobs data -- a lower yen potentially helps Japan's powerhouse exporters. The Nikkei rose 0.5 percent to close at 12,349.05.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed nearly unchanged at 23,090.82 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.5 percent to 5,146.90.

In the oil markets, the price of benchmark New York crude was down 32 cents at $91.63 a barrel.

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