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World stocks fall on emerging market woes

AMSTERDAM - Concerns over a sharp fall in emerging market currencies dragged most stock markets lower Friday, as what began as worries over the Chinese economy a day earlier continued to have ripple effects.

A heavy U.S. corporate earnings schedule may influence the tone later in the day, with consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, tech blue chip Xerox and industrial stalwart Honeywell International all scheduled to issue earnings.

"At the start of Friday's business, traders are asking themselves if Thursday's negativity was simply a bit of a shake-out or the start of a more extensive move lower," said IG analyst Alastair McCaig.

In currencies, the Turkish lira, South African rand, Russian ruble and especially the Argentinian peso - which was fell 13 percent Thursday - have been "trounced," in recent sessions, said Jane Foley, a currency strategy at Rabobank. She said the immediate cause was a weak survey on Chinese manufacturing Thursday, which in combination with ongoing concerns about the health of its banking system and "talk that the U.S. Federal Reserve will announce another reduction in its monthly bond purchases next week ... are all contributing to a loss of confidence in some emerging markets."

If the Fed policy leads to rising interest rates, the U.S. should become a more attractive place to invest, draining liquidity from emerging markets and leading to currency outflows there. Those issues added to country-specific concerns - about the stability of the government in Turkey or, in Argentina, the central bank's ability to defend the currency.

The pain was keenest in Asia as another safe-haven currency - the yen - surged, dampening prospects for its export-driven economy. The Nikkei 225 slipped 1.9 percent to close at 15,391.56.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 1.3 percent to 22,450.06 and Seoul's Kospi dropped 0.4 percent to 1,940.56. Shares in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines sagged.

"Apart from the Shanghai Composite, the rest of the region seems to be struggling to gain traction heading into the weekend," Stan Shamu, a strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia, said in a report.

Paradoxically, China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.6 percent to 2,054.39, shrugging off the pall cast Thursday over markets by HSBC's survey of Chinese factory purchasing managers in January, which indicated a contraction in manufacturing for the first time since July.

By midday in Europe, Germany's DAX was down 1.3 percent at 9,501.68 and Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.1 percent to 6,697.02. France's CAC 40 dropped 1.6 percent to 4,213.15. U.S. stocks were also poised to fall, with Dow Jones Industrial Index futures down 111 points to 16,040 and the broader S&P 500 index futures off 13.6 points to 1,808.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude contract for March delivery eased somewhat after Thursday's strong rise, retreating 0.4 percent to $96.93 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Recent cold weather in much of the U.S. has led to declining heating fuel oil reserves and higher natural gas prices, pushing oil higher in a knock-on effect.

In the largest currency pairs, the euro continued to rise against the dollar after a surge Thursday on the back of strengthening European manufacturing data. It was trading up 0.2 percent at $1.3728 Friday.

The dollar fell strongly against the yen, down 1.1 percent to 102.13. Dollar-yen trading may be volatile through the day as most economists are expecting Japanese trade figures Monday to show the country is continuing to run a large deficit due to high energy costs - which should be a negative for the yen.

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