GLOBAL MARKETS-Crimea worries hit stocks; gold falls on rate view

Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:45am EDT

* Crimea keeps investors wary as Obama begins talks

* Gold drops on concerns about U.S. rate hike

* Slowing growth in Germany, China weigh on some investors

By Barani Krishnan

NEW YORK, March 24 (Reuters) - Global equity markets fell on Monday, rattled by Ukraine's ongoing crisis and on weak data out of China that added to worries about the global economy, while gold fell on concerns about higher U.S. interest rates and a stronger dollar.

The dollar firmed and the euro slipped after signs of slowing growth in Germany, the euro zone's largest economy.

Tension between Ukraine and Russia continued to simmer after Ukraine announced the evacuation of its troops from Crimea, essentially yielding the region to Russian forces.

Investors are concerned about the potential economic fallout, and shares of European companies with a big exposure to Russia came under renewed pressure. President Barack Obama on Monday began talks with European allies on a response to the crisis as the potential for more sanctions looms.

"The issue remains contained for the time being, but Obama will try and garner support for more sanctions, which will ultimately shape our view of how things can end up looking," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York. "This remains at the forefront of what we're paying attention to."

Data out of China also weighed on sentiment. The flash Markit/HSBC China Purchasing Manager index fell to an eight-month low of 48.1 in March. The index has been below 50, the dividing line between expansion and contraction, since January. Weakness in China, the world's second-largest economy, is an worries investors because of its importance in the demand for raw materials and technology.

On Wall Street, biotechnology and technology shares were among the biggest losers; both sectors rallied sharply in the last year or more.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 58.57 points, or 0.36 percent, to 16,244.2, the S&P 500 lost 13.46 points, or 0.72 percent, to 1,853.06, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 75.249 points, or 1.76 percent, to 4,201.539.

The Nasdaq Biotech Index, which has gained more than 300 percent in the past five years, was down 4.4 percent.

Gold hit a one-month low on expectations of higher U.S. interest rates by 2015. Spot gold dipped to $1,310.90 an ounce, following a sharp fall triggered by comments last week from Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen that suggested interest rates could rise sooner than many in markets had expected.

"With higher yields you get a higher opportunity cost of holding gold, and with the stronger U.S. dollar there is less of a fear of currency debasement," Natixis analyst Bernard Dahdah said.

"We could see gold dropping below $1,300 in the next month if we get the necessary U.S. data, a strengthening dollar and higher yields."

German Bund futures extended losses after the flash composite purchasing managers' index for France jumped to 51.6 in March from 47.9 last month.

The euro weakened after data showing growth in Germany slowed in March, raising the potential for more monetary easing from the European Central Bank. Data from the euro zone as a whole dipped compared with February.

"Germany is going to determine ECB policy," said Boris Schlossberg, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management in New York.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index, which rose 1.8 percent last week, was down 1 percent.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, was up at 80.2 after reaching a session peak of 80.29, not far from Thursday's three-week high of 80.354.

The euro last stood at $1.3774, down 0.1 percent on the day, after the French data helped it touch a high of $1.3875. The dollar rose 0.2 percent against the yen, to 102.50 yen. (Additional reporting by Nigel Stephenson in London and Blaise Robinson in Paris; Editing by Leslie Adler)