By PAMELA SAMPSONBANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ Disappointing news about Germany's economy sent Asian stock markets down on Friday. Europe's biggest economy contracted a worse-than-expected 0.6 percent in the last quarter of 2012 as recession deepened across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro. It was Germany's worst performance since early 2009, amid a global recession. The worry for European policymakers is that output is declining beyond weaker, debt-laden economies like Greece and Spain. France, Europe's second-biggest economy, also saw output drop. "A number of analysts have been making the case for quite some time now that the worst in Europe is probably behind us; however the steepness of the contractions ... appears to have given markets pause," said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in an email commentary. The slowdown in Europe was gloomy news for Asia, which depend on exports to the region to help drive their economies. Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.9 percent to 11,207.93. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.1 percent to 23,400.28. South Korea's Kospi was nearly unchanged at 1,979.84. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 flatlined at 5,036.90. Benchmarks in Singapore and New Zealand also fell. Mainland China and Taiwan were closed for Lunar New Year holidays. Stocks ended little changed on Wall Street as a slowdown in Europe's economy overshadowed an encouraging report on the U.S. jobs market. The Labor Department on Thursday reported a sharp drop in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits. Weekly applications fell 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.1 percent to 13,973.39. The S&P 500 index edged up 0.1 percent to 1,521.38. The Nasdaq composite rose less than 0.1 percent to 3,198.66. Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 10 cents to $97.41 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 30 cents to finish at $97.31 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3352 from $1.3346 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 92.75 yen from 93.02 yen.___ Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson