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European stocks closed little changed, trimming losses in the final minutes of trading, after data showed Chinese manufacturing shrank for a second month and Federal Reserve minutes signaled stimulus cuts will continue.
A Chinese manufacturing index fell to the lowest level in seven months, data showed today. The preliminary February reading of 48.3 for a purchasing managers’ index from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics came in lower than January’s final figure of 49.5 and the 49.5 median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. A number below 50 indicates contraction.
Fed policy makers said they would soon have to modify their commitment to keep the benchmark interest rate near zero until unemployment falls below 6.5 percent, according to minutes of their January meeting released yesterday.
National benchmark indexes dropped in seven of the 18 western European markets. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 added 0.2 percent, Germany’s DAX lost 0.4 percent and France’s CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent.
BAE dropped 8.3 percent to 400.4 pence. Europe’s largest defense company said earnings per share will decline 5 percent to 10 percent in 2014 because of the pressure on the U.S. to contain its budget.
Randstad fell 11 percent to 44 euros, its worst retreat since March 2009. The world’s second-largest staffing company posted fourth-quarter sales that missed projections. Rabobank International downgraded the stock to hold from buy, saying profit trailed its estimate. Exane BNP Paribas said analysts may reduce their price estimates for Randstad after weak results.
TUI slid 5.4 percent to 13.02 euros, its biggest decline since August. Monteray Enterprises Ltd., controlled by trusts of Norwegian shipping magnate John Fredriksen’s family, sold 39.7 million shares in the company for 521 million euros. That leaves the Norwegian investor with 4.4 percent of TUI’s capital, the tour operator said in a statement.
A gauge of commodity producers slumped the most among the 19 industry groups on the Stoxx 600, losing 1.1 percent.
Technip rose 9 percent to 69.99 euros. Europe’s largest oil-services provider by market value said its operating-profit margin from subsea operations will be at least 12 percent in 2014 and increase to 15 percent to 17 percent next year.