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Markets subdued as investors pause for breath

LONDON Financial markets remained subdued Tuesday as investors assessed whether the recent optimism that has seen many stock indexes hit historic highs will last.

Given a dearth of market-moving news, investors remained on the sidelines, awaiting more significant economic reports from the world's leading economies.

Over the past few weeks, stock investors, in particular, have been gripped by a wave of optimism over a range of issues, including the prospects for the U.S. economy.

However, those hopes over the world's biggest economy are beginning to stoke talk that the U.S. Federal Reserve may soon start to rein in its monetary stimulus. Investors want to hear more on that as much of the recovery in stocks over the past few years has been based on cheap and easy money from the world's major central banks, most recently from Japan's.

Waning fears over Europe's debt crisis and the bold attempt by Japan's monetary authorities to shake off a two-decade economic stagnation have also lain behind the positive mood in 2013.

"With another relatively quiet day for fundamentals, it's increasingly easy to side with those suggesting that the market is due a pause for breath, or even a small correction," said Fawad Razaqzada, market strategist at GFT Markets.

In Europe, the mood was little changed by a surprisingly big 1 percent rise in industrial production among the 17 European Union countries that use the euro. The figure raised some expectations that the recession in the eurozone may have ended. The first estimate of the region's gross domestic product in the first three months is due for release Wednesday.

Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent to 8,271 while the CAC-40 in France was 0.4 percent lower at 3,931. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.1 percent to 6,623

Wall Street was poised for an unspectacular opening, with both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.2 percent. On Monday, the S&P struck another record high.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.2 percent to close at 14,758.42 -- a modest retreat following two spectacular sessions that have seen the index rise to five-year highs.

The index has soared more than 42 percent since the beginning of the year as the yen dropped sharply in response to the Bank of Japan's aggressive monetary stimulus program.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, elected late last year on promises to revive the world's third-largest economy, has implemented a policy mix of increased public spending and aggressive monetary easing to end the country's two decades of economic stagnation.

On Tuesday, the dollar was 0.1 percent lower against the Japanese yen, at 101.67 yen. It was also largely unchanged against the euro, which was trading 0.1 percent lower at $1.2979.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's Kospi added 1 percent to 1,968.83 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.3 percent at 22,930.28. In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.1 percent to 2,217.01. The Shenzhen Composite Index fell 1.4 percent 960.81.

Oil prices were little changed, with the benchmark New York rate 5 cents higher at $95.22 a barrel.