Europe shares sag on downbeat Chinese, French data

PARIS Thu Feb 20, 2014 3:14am EST

PARIS Feb 20 (Reuters) - European shares dropped in early trade on Thursday following data showing a slide in China's factory activity and in France's service sector.

China's flash Markit/HSBC Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to a seven-month low of 48.3 in February from January's final reading of 49.5, sparking a sell-off in Asian shares. A reading below 50 indicates a contraction while one above shows expansion.

France's service sector shrank the most in nine months in February, with Markit's index for the sector falling to 46.9 from 48.9 in January, well under economists' average expectations for an increase to 49.4.

Investors also awaited manufacturing data for Germany and the euro zone as a whole.

At 0807 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 1 percent at 1,325.53 points.

Investors were also rattled by minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest policy-setting meeting, which indicated that the central bank will keep trimming its bond-buying stimulus unless there is a significant economic surprise. The minutes triggered a late sell-off on Wall Street on Wednesday.

On the earnings front, Randstad dropped 8 percent after the Dutch staffing firm reported lower-than-expected fourth-quarter results, hurt by currency effects and marketing costs.