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Asian stocks gain on U.S. data, Russia sanctions

BEIJING - Asian stocks advanced Tuesday on stronger U.S. factory production and relief that sanctions imposed on Russia following the Crimea referendum avoid its vital economic interests. European markets were down.

The Asian heavyweight index, Tokyo's Nikkei 225, rose 0.9 percent to 14,411.27 and China's Shanghai Composite Index added 0.1 percent to 2,025.20. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.5 percent to 21,583.50.

In Europe, Germany's DAX shed 0.4 percent to 19,139.24 and France's CAC-40 lost 0.1 percent to 4,268.46. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.2 percent to 6,553.50. Futures augured a pullback on Wall Street. Dow futures and S&P 500 futures were both down 0.2 percent.

Sentiment in Asia was buoyed by Federal Reserve data showing U.S. factory production in February rose at its fastest rate in six months. That reinforced expectations the Fed will go ahead with a third planned reduction of its stimulus, cutting monthly bond purchases by $10 billion to $55 billion.

"U.S. industrial production rose at its fastest pace in 6 months, suggesting that activity is reverting to normal after being hampered by a period of cold weather," said Mizuho Bank in a report.

That added to relief that penalties imposed by Washington and Europe over the referendum in the Ukrainian region of Crimea avoided measures that might disrupt Russian economic activity.

Western governments imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people from Russia and Crimea seen as playing key roles in organizing what they consider an unlawful vote.

"The West will likely keep to its stance of targeted sanctions on individuals instead of broad-based economic sanctions to avoid harming deep economic ties with Russia," said Mizuho.

Seoul's Kospi index added 0.7 percent to 1,940.21 and Taiwan's Taiex index rose 0.4 percent to 8,721.55.

Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5 percent to 5,344.60. Markets in New Zealand, Malaysia and Manila also gained.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery added 13 cents to $98.21 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract shed 81 cents to $98.08 on Monday as concern about possible disruption of supplies from Russia, the biggest exporter, eased.

In currency markets, the euro rose to $1.3934 from $1.3925 late Monday. The dollar fell to 101.79 yen from 101.84 yen.

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