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Asian Markets Cautious Amid Dull Economic Signs

PAMELA SAMPSON

BANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ World stock markets drifted Monday amid a quiet day of trading due to a U.S. holiday and signs that the global economic recovery has hit a plateau.

Oil prices hovered below $100 a barrel in light trading volume ahead of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday. The dollar was down against the euro but up against the yen.

Asian markets were largely inert and European shares posted muted gains in early trading. Germany's DAX was 0.4 percent higher to 7,190.4 and France's CAC-40 rose 0.1 percent to 3,955.97.Markets in Britain are closed for a holiday.

While most major economies are expected to keep growing, evidence is mounting that many around the world are struggling to expand as fast as they did last year. European governments are struggling with debts and squeezed budgets. High unemployment, depressed real estate and still-high oil prices are slowing the U.S. economy. In China, interest-rate hikes designed to reduce inflation are slowing growth.

"In this kind of market, where you have seasonal weakness, not to mention a raft of concerns comprising softening global economic data and European, US debt worries, the markets' default position is definitely down," Cameron Peacock, a market analyst with IG Markets in Melbourne, said in a report.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average slipped 0.2 percent to close at 9,504.97 as a stronger yen hurt the country's exporters. Many of them are already struggling with power outages and parts shortages in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world's top auto producer, was down 0.2 percent and rival Honda Motor Co. Ltd. lost 1.3 percent. Electronics and entertainment giant Sony Corp. slid 2.1 percent.

South Korea's Kospi lost 0.3 percent to 2,093.79, with tech shares among the most embattled. Samsung SDI Co. Ltd., which manufactures electron tubes and plasma panels for digital displays, plummeted 11.5 percent.

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