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Stocks boosted by stronger European growth data

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Stock markets pushed higher on Friday after new figures showed the European economic recovery gathered speed at the end of 2013.

The eurozone currency bloc saw its economy grow 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter, faster than the previous three-month period's 0.1 percent and above expectations for 0.2 percent. That shows the recovery is getting a foothold, both in the larger economies like Germany and weaker ones like Italy. However, growth remains timid by historical standards.

"The eurozone has been proceeding slightly faster than expected," said Tom Rogers, senior economic adviser at EY. He predicts, however, that growth will not be any higher than a muted 1 percent in 2014.

Germany's DAX was up 0.6 percent to 9,653.84 after the figures' release, while and the CAC-40 in France was up 0.4 percent to 4,331.59. The FTSE MIB in Italy, which saw its first economic growth since 2011, rose a stronger 1.1 percent. The Milan index was also helped by an expected handover of power in the government, with a new prime minister expected to take over and give new momentum to structural reforms.

Elsewhere, Britain's FTSE 100 index was flat at 6,661.92 and Wall Street was expected to be steady on the open. Standard & Poor's 500 futures and Dow Jones futures were both flat.

Earlier, in Asia, Chinese shares rose after a report showed consumer prices rose 2.5 percent in the year to January, unchanged from December's rate. The rise in politically sensitive food costs decelerated to 3.7 percent from December's 4.1 percent.

Lower inflation is one less distraction for communist leaders as they focus on carrying out ambitious promises of reforms aimed at making China's economy more productive and keeping incomes rising.

China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.8 percent to 2,115.85 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.6 percent to 22,298.41.

South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7 percent to 1,940.28. But Japan's Nikkei 225 dropped 1.5 percent to 14,313.03 as the yen strengthened against the dollar, a negative for share prices of exporters.

Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was down 50 cents at $99.85 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract eased 2 cents to close at $100.35 on Thursday.

In currency trading, the euro rose 0.1 percent to $1.3698 while the dollar fell 0.4 percent to 101.81 yen.

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