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World stocks struggle as Asia fails to hold gains

HONG KONG - World stock markets struggled on Thursday as they fought to scrape out more gains a day after a key U.S. benchmark climbed to a new high on strong earnings and economic data.

Asian investors were initially reassured after the S&P 500 closed at its highest level yet, squeaking past its previous record set less than a month ago. The rally was helped along by Bank of America, the country's No. 2 bank, reporting that quarterly profits quadrupled.

A Federal Reserve survey that showed economic growth remained healthy also bolstered sentiment, as did optimistic comments about the state of the global economy by the World Bank and the head of the International Monetary Fund.

In early European trading, France's CAC 40 dipped 0.2 percent to 4,322.80, while Germany's DAX lost 0.1 percent to 9.724.61. The FTSE 100 index of leading British companies was nearly unchanged at 6,820.09.

U.S. stocks were poised to open lower. Dow futures fell 0.1 percent to 16,389.00, while broader S&P 500 futures shed 0.1 percent to 1,839.10.

Asia markets were relatively muted as they closed, after they failed to sustain gains earlier in the day.

"The markets are very well owned, they're at very high levels relative to last year and previous years, that's across the board, especially in developed markets," said Benjamin Collett, head of Asian and Japan equities at Sunrise Brokers. "There's a lot of optimism priced in Japan, so a bit of selling in the p.m. on a Thursday on the absence of new catalysts is not that surprising."

Japan's Nikkei 225 swung into negative territory as the dollar's early rally against the Japanese yen faded. The index retreated 0.4 percent to close at 15,747.20.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 0.4 percent to end at 22,986.41, and South Korea's Kospi added 0.2 percent to 1,957.32. Australia's S&P ASX 200 jumped 1.2 percent to 5,309.10.

Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index was practically unchanged at 2,023.70, while the smaller Shenzhen composite index dipped 0.1 percent to 1,046.17.

In currencies, the dollar edged up to 104.76 yen from 104.72 in late trading Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.3607 from $1.3594.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for February delivery was down 8 cents to $94.09 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.58 to settle at 94.17 on Wednesday.

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