* FTSEurofirst 300 down 1 pct
* Companies with big Russia exposure hit again
* Bayer falls on UK regulatory block
* China's lower-than-expected PMI weighs on sentiment
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By Alistair Smout
LONDON, March 24 European stocks fell on Monday,
trimming last week's lofty gains as concern over events in
Ukraine and China's flagging manufacturing activity pegged a key
index back from the top of its recent range.
Shares of companies with big exposure to Russia were under
pressure as the United States began crisis talks with European
allies over Ukraine.
Finnish tyre maker Nokian Renkaat was down 2.1
percent, Austrian lender Raiffeisen Bank International
down 2 percent and Danish brewer Carlsberg down 0.6
percent. The three firms derive about 26 percent, 22 percent and
17 percent respectively of their revenues from Russia, according
to data from MSCI.
While the developments did not mark a severe setback,
confirmation that geopolitical uncertainty would continue into a
fourth week was enough to see European shares retrace some of
last week's gains.
The FTSEurofirst 300 gained 1.8 percent last week,
buoyed by assurances from Russia that it would not intervene in
the affairs of any other regions in Ukraine.
"Geopolitical tensions have eased somewhat ... but the
market remains susceptible to negative headlines," Atif Latif,
director of trading at Guardian Stockbrokers, said, highlighting
the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Crimea and a build-up of
Russian troops on the border.
NATO's top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had
built up a "very sizeable" force on its border with Ukraine, and
that Moscow may have a region in another ex-Soviet republic,
Moldova, in its sights.
The FTSEurofirst 300 closed down 1 percent at 1,293.73
points, bringing it back from the top end of the 125-point range
it has traded in for the last five sessions.
"The equity market's long-term trend is still positive,"
Barclays France director Franklin Pichard said. "But in the
short term, indexes could remain stuck in this consolidation
zone and within tight ranges."
Shares in Bayer were among the biggest European
blue-chip losers, down 3.3 percent after Britain's healthcare
cost agency recommended the state health service not use the
firm's new prostate cancer drug Xofigo.
Also under pressure were industrials, after China's flash
Markit/HSBC Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to an
eight-month low of 48.1 in March, a weaker-than-expected figure.
The index has been below the 50 level since January, indicating
a contraction in the sector this year.
"China's slowdown is sharper than most people had expected,
which fuels worries about the impact on global growth," said
Philippe de Vandiere, analyst at Altedia Investment Consulting
"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."
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pad95v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/rav46v
Today's European research round-up
(Additional reporting by Blaise Robinson in Paris and Sudip
Kar-Gupta in London; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)