* Weak French and Chinese data weighs on European equities
* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.9 pct
* Euro STOXX 50 down 1.1 pct
By Sudip Kar-Gupta
LONDON, Feb 20 Weak French and Chinese economic
data knocked back European stock markets on Thursday, leaving a
pan-European equity index nursing its worst intraday loss in
more than two weeks.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 0.9 percent to
1,327.75 points in early session trading, its biggest intraday
fall since a 1.4 percent decline on Feb. 3.
The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index
also fell 1.1 percent to 3,086.81 points.
Although data on Thursday showed growth in Germany's private
sector, France's service sector shrank the most in nine months
Further weighing on global equity markets was data showing
that 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. A reading below 50 indicates a
contraction while one above shows expansion.
Investors were also rattled by minutes of the U.S. Federal
Reserve's latest policy-setting meeting, which indicated the
U.S. central bank will keep trimming its bond-buying stimulus
unless there is a significant economic surprise and could change
its forward guidance on interest rates.
"I think we're in for more sell-offs," said Darren
Courtney-Cook, head of trading at Central Markets Investment
"We've had bad Chinese data and the very fact that there is
chatter about the Fed changing its guidance on rates is also
weighing on sentiment," he added.
Courtney-Cook said he had sold positions on Germany's DAX
futures contract at 9,700 points before buying back in
at 9,500 points.
Toby Campbell-Gray, head of trading at Tavira Securities,
also expected European shares to fall in the next few sessions
but remained more bullish on a longer time-frame over 2014.
"I do see the market as being a little bit softer in the
next few days but I would use days like this to pick up quality
stocks," he said.