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European stocks declined the most in more than two weeks as a measure of services and manufacturing output contracted, while concern mounted that the Federal Reserve will scale back its asset-purchase program.
Euro-area services and manufacturing shrank in February more than economists had forecast. A composite index of both industries in the 17-nation currency bloc fell to 47.3 from 48.6 in January, London-based Markit Economics said today. Economists had predicted a reading of 49, according to the median of 22 estimates in a survey. A reading below 50 means that activity contracted.
Several participants at the FOMC’s meeting “emphasized that the committee should be prepared to vary the pace of asset purchases, either in response to changes in the economic outlook or as its evaluation of the efficacy and costs of such purchases evolves,” according to minutes released after the close of European markets yesterday.
National benchmark indexes fell in every western-European market except Iceland. France’s CAC 40 declined 2.3 percent, while the U.K.’s FTSE 100 slid 1.6 percent. Germany’s DAX dropped 1.9 percent.
Safran decreased 3.1 percent to 34 euros. Europe’s second- biggest maker of aircraft engines has begun exploratory discussions with Avio, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Paul Herteman said on a conference call.
Axa SA retreated 3.1 percent to 13.27 euros as net income unexpectedly fell to 4.15 billion euros ($5.5 billion) in 2012 from 4.19 billion euros in 2011. That missed the 4.47 billion- euro average analyst estimate in a survey.
Swiss Re Ltd. gained 2.5 percent to 75.65 francs, its highest price since June 2008. Investors will receive a special dividend of 4 francs a share, plus an ordinary dividend of 3.50 francs, the insurer said. That exceeded the average forecast of eight analysts for a total payout of 6.21 francs a share. Fourth-quarter net income of $795 million beat the average analyst estimate of $240.3 million.
Schneider Electric SA climbed 2.3 percent to 56.67 euros after the world’s biggest maker of low- and medium-voltage equipment said revenue will rebound in 2013. The company added that net income rose 3 percent to 1.84 billion euros in 2012. The average analyst estimate had called for profit of 1.83 billion euros.
BAE Systems Plc jumped 4.1 percent to 345.9 pence, its biggest rally in more than five months. Europe’s largest arms company said it will buy back as much as 1 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) of shares over three years after reporting full-year earnings that fell less than analysts had predicted.
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