US data run fails to energize subdued markets

A raft of U.S. economic figures failed to give markets any momentum Friday at the end of a week that's seen many of the world's major stock indexes rise to multi-year highs.

U.S. stock markets have been at the forefront of the global advance, with the Dow Jones index recording a series of highs during a 10-day winning streak - its best run since 1996 - and the broader S&P 500 on the cusp of its own historic peak.

The run of U.S. economic data did not alter the flat tone that had prevailed in markets through the day as investors cashed in following a stellar run. However, the Dow remained within striking distance of a higher close, which would be its eleventh consecutive.

A stronger-than-expected increase in February industrial production figures offset a surprisingly big fall in consumer sentiment as measured by the University of Michigan.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.7 percent at 6,483 while Germany's DAX fell 0.2 percent to 8,042. The CAC-40 in France was 0.7 percent lower at 3,844.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.2 percent at 14,497 while the S&P fell 0.1 percent to 1,560, about five points from its all-time high.

Developments on Wall Street and the U.S. economy have largely dominated market sentiment this year despite ongoing worries over the global economy, particularly in Europe.

"Among the investor community, the idea that, economically speaking, the U.S. is leading the pack is still widely shared," said Herve Goulletquer, an analyst at Credit Agricole.

A summit of the 27 European Union leaders in Brussels failed to deliver any fundamental change in economic strategy though there was more talk of the need to promote growth rather than just cut debt.

"Despite the previously entrenched positions, there are signs from the tone and language of the meeting that there may be a slight softening of their austerity position," said Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at Interactive Investor.

The soft tone in stock markets was echoed in the currency markets as investors booked some recent dollar gains. The euro was up 0.3 percent at $1.3055 while the dollar fell 0.8 percent against the Japanese yen, to 95.47 yen.

One currency that has been in the ascendancy over the past day has been the British pound after Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said he suggested the currency was "properly valued."

Traders took his remarks as a sign that the Bank does not want to see further falls in the currency, which has been in retreat for the past few weeks on expectations of another monetary stimulus from the central bank. His comments Thursday pushed the pound back above the $1.51 mark.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.5 percent to 12,560.95 - its highest close in more than four years - after both houses of parliament endorsed Haruhiko Kuroda, the current president of the Asia Development Bank, to head the Bank of Japan.

The vote allows Kuroda to stand in for current Bank of Japan governor, Masaaki Shirakawa, after he steps down on March 19. Another vote is required to make Kuroda's appointment permanent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.4 percent to 22,533.11. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 1.8 percent to 5,120.20. Benchmarks in mainland China, Thailand and Indonesia rose.

Oil markets were relatively subdued, with the benchmark New York rate up 43 cents at $93.44 a barrel.