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Markets kept in check by Asian developments

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PAN PYLAS | March 10, 2014 10:48 AM EST | AP

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LONDON (AP) — Disappointing Chinese and Japanese economic figures weighed on markets Monday.

Amid a dearth of economic and corporate news in Europe and the U.S., traders, particularly in oil markets, are mostly focused on developments on the other side of the world.

While media headlines were dominated by the search for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, investors were hit by a double dose of downbeat economic news.

Figures showing that China's exports fell by an unexpectedly large 18 percent in February reinforced fears over the outlook for the world's number 2 economy.

Meanwhile, Japan, the world's third largest economy, reported a record current account deficit for January, and lowered its economic growth estimate for the October-December quarter to 0.7 percent from 1 percent.

"Global financial markets are starting the week off on a cautious footing," said Carl Campus, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.4 percent at 6,685 while Germany's DAX fell 1.1 percent at 9,249. The CAC-40 in France, having bucked the trend for much of the day, was 0.2 percent lower at 4,356.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.5 percent at 16,364 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.4 percent to 1,869.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 closed down 1 percent at 15,120.14 and China's Shanghai Composite plunged 2.9 percent to 1,999.06. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1.8 percent to 22,264.93.

A notable mover during the Asian session was Malaysia Airlines, which fell sharply following the disappearance of one its jets en route to Beijing. Though its shares ended 4 percent lower on the Kuala Lumpur stock market, they had been 10 percent lower earlier.

Oil prices were under pressure following the Chinese and Japanese data, as traders worried about the outlook for global growth. A barrel of benchmark New York crude was down 1.5 percent at $101.07.

Elsewhere, the euro remained near its highest levels against the dollar since October 2011. Trading flat on the day at $1.3880, the euro may soon make another attempt to breach the $1.40 mark.

The currency has been buoyant since last Thursday's decision by the European Central Bank not to cut interest rates further amid what it sees as an improving economic backdrop. Its advance went into reverse, albeit a modest one, following Friday's solid U.S. nonfarm payrolls figures which cemented market expectations that the Federal Reserve will continue to reduce its stimulus.