By PAMELA SAMPSONBANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ A strong U.S. jobs report helped propel Asian stock markets higher on Monday, but shares in Europe were weighed down by renewed worries about the region's struggling economies. France will release monthly industrial production figures that analysts said would likely reflect continuing weakness while investors were still smarting from a credit downgrade slapped on Italy on Friday. The Fitch Ratings Agency said the country's inconclusive election that left no party in clear control of the government harmed the chances of Italy moving ahead with economic reforms. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent to 6,477.36 and Germany's DAX lost 0.2 percent to 7,966.95. France's CAC-40 shed 0.4 percent to 3,824.26. On Wall Street, the Dow appeared set for its first losing session after six straight days of gains. Dow Jones industrial futures fell 0.1 percent to 14,298. S&P 500 futures lost 0.1 percent at 1,542.30. Asian stocks rose, however, on the heels of a U.S. government report released Friday that showed the unemployment rate falling to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in January. Employers added far more jobs in February than expected, despite higher taxes and cuts in government spending. "Sentiment was boosted by the better-than-expected US jobs report on Friday, but downgrade of Italy by Fitch over the weekend has casted some doubts ahead," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in an email commentary. Japan's Nikkei 225 index marched higher for the eighth straight session as the yen slid against the dollar. The Nikkei rose 0.5 percent to close at 12,349.05. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.1 percent to 2,003.35. Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed nearly unchanged at 23,090.82 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.5 percent to 5,146.90. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and New Zealand also rose. Indonesia fell. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.
Jackson Wong, vice president of Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong, said the Dow's recent record highs have helped investment sentiment, especially among traders looking for bargains, although volumes on the Hang Seng were subdued.He also said China's pledge last week to increase spending on environmental cleanup and public services boded well for clean energy and medical companies such as Shandong Weigao Group Medical Polymer, which rose 3.5 percent. At a budget presentation last week, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao called for spending on social programs to raise the living standards of ordinary Chinese and to promote energy conservation. Japanese export shares rose on hopes that the weakening yen would help boost their bottom lines. Yamaha Motor Co. jumped 4.6 percent. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. surged 5.9 percent. Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 43 cents to $91.52 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 39 cents to finish at $91.95 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday. In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3003 from $1.2981 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 96.07 yen from 95.70 yen. ___ Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson