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Asia stocks rise on stimulus hopes; Europe down

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SEOUL, Mar 24 (AP) -Asian stock markets were boosted Monday by expectations of economic stimulus in China after manufacturing continued to weaken in March. European shares fell after a eurozone manufacturing survey reinforced expectations of a slow recovery.
Germany's DAX fell 0.8 percent to 9,273.17 and France's CAC 40 dropped 0.8 percent to 4,299. Britain's FTSE 100 shed 0.4 percent to 6,532.48. A survey of factory purchasing managers in countries using the euro showed that the region's economic recovery was fitful in the first quarter. The headline index fell slightly to 53.2 in March, a level indicating very modest growth.
Wall Street was set for gains after falling on Friday. S&P 500 futures were up 0.2 percent at 1,861 and Dow Jones futures gained 0.2 percent to 16,245.
Earlier in Asia, stock markets closed higher as investors bet that China would introduce economic stimulus measures after manufacturing declined further in March.
The preliminary version of HSBC's purchasing managers' index for China dropped to 48.1 in March from February's 48.5. Readings below 50 on the 100-point scale indicate a contraction in activity. Factory output shrank at the fastest clip in 18 months.
The worse-than-expected result suggested that the slowdown in the world's No. 2 economy is deepening, J.P. Morgan's chief China economist Haibin Zhu said in a report.
Beijing will likely introduce a series of pro-growth measures focusing on accelerating fiscal spending on infrastructure and reforms, the report said.
Tokyo's Nikkei 225, the regional heavyweight, rose 1.8 percent to 14,475.30 after a three-day long weekend. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 1.9 percent to 21,846.45 and China's Shanghai Composite Index widened gains after the release of the manufacturing survey, rising 0.9 percent to 2,066.68.
South Korea's Kospi added 0.6 percent to 1,945.55 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.2 percent to 5,346.90. Markets in Southeast Asia also rose.
Benchmark crude oil for May delivery was up 16 cents to $99.61 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 56 cents to settle at $99.46 on Friday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3776 from $1.3794 late Friday. The dollar rose to 102.48 yen from 102.26 yen.

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