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Europe: Stocks close mostly lower


[LONDON] European stock markets closed mostly lower on Thursday as more disappointing Chinese data weighed on the global economic outlook, and investors awaited developments in Greece's debt stand-off.

Frankfurt's benchmark DAX 30 index closed down 1.21 per cent to 11,723,58 points as the market brushed off data showing that consumer confidence in Germany is at its highest since late 2001.

The CAC 40 in Paris ended 0.62 per cent lower at 5,178.91 after a key survey showed growth in business activity in France's private sector slowed in April amid signs that the eurozone's second-biggest economy was on the verge of stalling.

London's FTSE 100 closed out 0.36 per cent higher to 7,053.67 points, with dealers reacting to a drop in British retail sales numbers, along with official data showing the British government beat its deficit-reduction target before next month's general election.

The euro rose to US$1.0804 from US$1.0725 late in New York on Wednesday.

"European equity markets remained in negative territory in today's trading session with ... indices (retreating) between 0.2 per cent and 1.2 per cent amid ongoing concerns regarding Greece's economic stability and poor US economic data," said Sucden senior research analyst Myrto Sokou.

Sales of new US homes plunged by 11.4 per cent month-over-month in March, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Worries about the health of China's economic activity also weighed on trading.

"In recent weeks, data from the world's largest economies - the US and China, in particular - have generally been disappointing. This trend continued for China overnight," said Fawad Razaqzada, technical analyst at trading group HSBC said its preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI) of manufacturing activity in China had slipped to a 12-month low in April, the latest data to show the world's number two economy slowing.

The reading of 49.2 was down from the 49.6 seen in March, and well below the 50 break-even point that separates growth from expansion.

But Asian stock markets mostly rose on Thursday on hopes for further Chinese stimulus in reaction to the data, analysts said.

The PMI by Markit Economics for the French private sector dropped to 50.2 points in April from 51.5 points the month before, data showed Thursday.

"Slowing manufacturing and service sector data for France and Germany stifled hopes of a eurozone economic recovery and sent shares lower on Thursday," said CMC Markets analyst Jasper Lawler.

"The PMIs were against a recent trend of improved data from the eurozone, though do match a fall in German investor confidence reported by ZEW on Monday."

Markets were also looking with concern to Friday, when eurozone finance ministers are due to meet in Latvia's capital Riga.

With Greek government coffers rapidly emptying, analysts warn Athens may have only weeks left before defaulting and possibly exiting the euro unless it reaches a deal with the EU and IMF to unlock 7.2 billion euros in remaining bailout loans.

"Greek default fears are back at the forefront of traders' minds," said David Madden, market analyst at IG traders.

"Greece is getting used to entering crisis talks and the (ruling) Syriza party seem all too happy to be haggling with creditors, but the equity markets haven't got the stomach for it."

US stocks were mixed in late morning trading, after key companies including GM, Caterpillar and Procter & Gamble all reported falling revenues in earnings reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.07 per cent to 18,025.19 points approaching midday.

The broad-based S&P climbed 0.51 per cent to 2,107.96 points while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 0.05 per cent to 5,032.90 points.