Asia's stock markets fall on slumping German economy

BANGKOK (AP) - Disappointing news about Germany's economy sent Asian stock markets down on Friday.

Europe's biggest economy contracted a worse-than-expected 0.6 per cent in the last quarter of last year 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 Mr Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in an e-mail 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 per cent to 11,207.93. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.1 per cent 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 US jobs market. The Labour 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.