* 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 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.
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
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)