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Markets await US data as S&P closes in on high

LONDON (AP) — Markets struggled to make gains Friday after another solid week that's sent many of the world's major stock indexes 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 ten-day winning streak and the broader S&P 500 on the cusp of its own historic peak.

How markets close out the week could hinge on a raft of U.S. economic figures later in the day that include monthly inflation and industrial production data as well as the Empire survey into manufacturing conditions around the New York region.

"Recent U.S. data has been positive so the markets will be looking for this to continue," said Neil MacKinnon, global market strategist at VTB Capital.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.1 percent at 6,521 while Germany's DAX fell the same rate to 8,057. The CAC-40 in France underperformed its peers, trading 0.5 percent lower at 3,851.

Wall Street was poised for an unspectacular opening, though how it actually fares will depend on the economic figures. Both Dow futures and the S&P futures were down 0.1 percent.

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.

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.

Developments in the currency markets were a little muted, with the euro up 0.3 percent at $1.3051 and the dollar 0.1 percent higher at 96.11 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 subdued, with the benchmark New York rate up 13 cents at $93.16 a barrel.