- US and German step up pressure on Russia
- Bundesbank lifts German growth forecast
- French inflation rebounds
- US retail sales rise, jobless claims fall
FTSE 100: -1.01%
CAC 40: -1.29%
FTSE MIB: -0.91%
IBEX 35: -1.19%
Stoxx 600: -1.05%
European stocks slumped as the US and Germany stepped up pressure on Russia to withdraw plans to annex Crimea from Ukraine.
Western leaders are working on sanctions to force President Vladimir Putin to put an end to the turmoil in Ukraine.
Crimea is due to hold a referendum in three days but the Group of Seven leaders issued a statement saying it was not legal and would not be recognised by the international community.
US President Barack Obama met Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House yesterday. Obama said "the international community - the European Union and others- will be forced to apply a cost to Russia's violations of international law and its encroachments on Ukraine".
Also weighing on stocks today was weak Chinese data, including industrial output, retail sales and fixed-asset investment, which fuelled concerns of a slowdown in the world's second largest economy.
"China's central bank seems to be prepared to take its strongest action since 2012 to loosen monetary policy if economic growth slows further towards 7%," said UniCredit.
"Authorities will probably wait another month for sentiment and activity data before reacting. But a RRR cut is clearly in the cards and we also expect some selective fiscal measures to prevent a severe growth slowdown. Whether this will succeed in preventing a severe growth slowdown remains to be seen."
Bundesbank raises German growth forecast
Germany's economic growth is likely to increase in 2014 and 2015, driven by consumer spending, Deutsche Bundesbank said.
Jens Weidmann, President of the Deutsche Bundesbank said Germany's low unemployment and wage growth combined with record low interest rates in the Eurozone are fuelling housing construction in particular.
In other European news, French consumer prices rebounded in February by 0.6% month-on-month after falling 0.6% in January. The monthly increase in February was slightly below the 0.7% market forecast. On a year-on-year basis inflation increased three percentage points (pp) to 1.1% compared to market expectations of 1%.
Italian inflation was revised down 0.1pp to 0.4% year-on-year in February, down 0.2pp from January, its lowest level since September 2009.
Meanwhile, the jobless rate in the developed world held at bay in January, with the 20 largest economies remaining at 7.6%, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
A total of 46.2m people were unemployed, 3.8m less than at the peak reached in April 2010, although 11.5m more than in July 2008. In the Eurozone alone, the rate was unchanged at 12%.
US retail sales rise
US retail sales climbed 0.3% on the month in February after a revised 0.6% fall in January, ending two straight months of declines, the Commerce Department revealed. Analysts had been expected an increase of 0.2%.
Separately, the Labor Department said the number of Americans filing for new claims for jobless benefits last week unexpectedly dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 315,000. The consensus estimate had been for 330,000 claims.
The Federal Reserve has been monitoring economic data ahead of its policy meeting next week. The central bank is widely expected to announce another $10bn reduction to its monthly bond buying programme.
Morrison leads supermarkets lower
Morrison Supermarkets declined after the UK grocer reported a drop in annual profits and said it would sell £1bn in property over the next three years. It dragged other retail stocks lower including Sainsbury and Tesco.
K+S AG slumped as Europe's largest potash supplier forecast a "significant" drop in earnings this year due to lower margins.
Deutsche Lufthansa gained as Europe's second-largest airline said it will pay a dividend of €0.45 a share.
Adecco dropped after its largest investor said it will sell about 16% in the provider of temporary workers.
Delhaize Group slipped after the owner of the Food Lion supermarkets predicting lower profitability in Belgium.
Royal Boskalis Westminster was higher after posting a rise in 2013 revenue that exceeded projections.
The euro rose 0.06% to $1.3912.
Brent crude fell $0.643 to $107.330 per barrel, according to the ICE.