By PAN PYLASLONDON (AP) â¿¿ European markets have started the week sluggishly 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. 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 second-largest 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 rose 0.3 percent to close at 6,503.63 while Germany's DAX ended flat at 7,984.29. The CAC-40 in France shed 0.1 percent to 3,836.27. Italian shares underperformed their peers, with the Milan exchange dropping 0.7 percent 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. In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average edged 0.3 percent higher to 14,434.89, pushing further past its recent record for what would be a seventh consecutive day of gains. The broader S&P 500 index was up 0.2 percent to 1,554.06.
In the currency markets, the euro was up 0.2 percent at $1.3018 and the dollar rose 0.3 percent at 96.30 yen, near three and a half year highs .Earlier, traders in Asia had their first chance to respond to last Friday's 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 â¿¿ 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 57 cents at $91.38 a barrel.