GLOBAL MARKETS-China data hits Europe shares, Crimea keeps nerves taut

Mon Mar 24, 2014 8:28am EDT

* European shares fall as Chinese data raises growth worries

* Crimea keeps investors wary as Obama begins talks

* Losses limited by robust French and German data

* Euro gives up France-fuelled gains

By Nigel Stephenson

LONDON, March 24 (Reuters) - European shares fell on Monday after data showed Chinese manufacturing contracted in the first quarter, raising worries over global growth.

Geopolitical concerns jangled nerves as U.S. President Barack Obama began talks with his European allies on their response to the Crimea crisis.

The euro gained against the dollar and 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. But the currency gave up its gains after figures showed growth slowed in Germany. Data from the euro zone as a whole dipped compared with February.

By late morning, the FTSEurofirst 300 index, which rose 1.8 percent last week, was down 0.4 percent.

The flash Markit/HSBC China Purchasing Manager index fell to an eight-month low of 48.1 in March from February's 48.5. The index has been below 50 since January. A score over 50 indicates expansion; anything under, contraction.

"China's slowdown is sharper than what most people had expected, which fuels worries about the impact on global growth," said Philippe de Vandiere, an analyst at Altedia Investment Consulting in Paris.

"But Chinese authorities have plenty of tools to avoid a hard landing, and we know that the country's transition to an economic model more focused on consumer spending will lower its growth rate a bit, so no big concern here."

A string of weak numbers has reinforced concern over a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy. The impact on Asian shares was limited, though, because the data raised expectations China would take steps to stimulate its economy.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 1 percent and Japan's Nikkei share average gained 1.8 percent. China's CSI300 index of leading Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings rose 0.8 percent.

Wall Street looked set for a higher open. S&P e-mini futures were up 0.2 percent.

Analysts said markets would partly be driven this week by geopolitics, as Obama began talks with Europe on their response to Russia's annexing Crimea from Ukraine.

In the biggest East-West confrontation since the Cold War, the United States and the European Union have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest allies. But they have held back so far from measures designed to hit Russia's wider economy.

Russian shares gave up early gains and were last down 0.1 percent. The rouble strengthened against the dollar.

"There have been no further sanctions imposed over the weekend, investors can more soberly assess the threat of sanctions already imposed," Vasiliy Tanurkov, an analyst at Veles Capital, said in a morning note.

MSCI's emerging stocks rose 0.9 percent.

DOLLAR FIRMS

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, ticked up to 80.258, not far from Thursday's three-week high of 80.354.

The euro last stood at $1.3764, down 0.2 percent on the day, after the French data helped it touch a high of $1.3875. The dollar rose 0.2 percent to 102.50 yen.

"It doesn't look like the ECB (European Central Bank) will do anything," said Alvin Tan, a currency strategist at Societe Generale. "So the next leg in the euro/dollar pair has to come from the dollar's side. And for that we need U.S. data to outperform and investors to price in expectations of Fed rate hikes."

ECB Governing Council member Erkki Liikanen said monetary policy would remain accommodative well into the recovery.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange traded flat at $6,483.00 a tonne, erasing losses from immediately after the China data.

Spot gold dipped to $1,323.60 an ounce, following a sharp fall triggered by comments last week from Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen that suggested U.S. interest rates could rise sooner than many in markets had expected.

Brent crude edged above $107 a barrel, supported by supply disruption worries. (Additional reporting by Blaise Robinson in Paris, Lidia Kelly in Moscow and Shinichi Saoshiro in Tokyo; Editing by Larry King)