- US and Russia meet in London for Ukraine talks
- Economists downgrade China growth forecasts
- Eurozone employment rises
- US consumer confidence falls
FTSE 100: -0.40%
CAC 40: -0.80%
FTSE MIB: -1.19%
IBEX 35: -1.39%
Stoxx 600: -0.70%
European stocks were little changed as investors weighed economic data and awaited a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region.
US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for talks in London ahead of a Sunday vote on whether to annex Crimea from Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin comment on the referendum in Crimea after the results are announced, Interfax reported.
He also warned that the referendum could prompt concerted US and European Union sanctions as Russia stepped up its military presence in Ukraine.
Russia's Prime Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, this afternoon said his country has no intention of putting "boots on the ground" in Eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, weighing on stocks today was the aftermath of weak Chinese data this week, including factory and retail reports, which prompted economists from Bank of America, JP Morgan and Nomura to lower their forecasts.
"Given the twin threats from worries about a "hard landing" in China and the crisis in Ukraine, it is perhaps surprising that global equities have not already fallen more than they have," said Capital Economics.
"We think that markets would be right to be sanguine about China's economic slowdown and that neither Russia nor the West will allow events in the Crimean peninsula to spiral out of control. Nonetheless, there is ample scope for the crisis in Ukraine, in particular, to undermine sentiment further in the coming weeks."
Eurozone employment increased by 0.1% quarter-on-quarter and declined 0.5% year-on-year in the last three months of 2013, Eurostat said.
German inflation last month climbed 0.5% on the month and 1.2% on the year, federal statistics office, Destatis, said, confirming preliminary estimates published in late February.
In the US, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading on consumer sentiment in the month of March fell to 79.9 from 81.6 in February, surprising analysts who had expected a rise to 82.
The Federal Reserve has been monitoring economic data ahead of next week's policy meeting, when the central bank is widely expected to scale back monetary stimulus.
Pandora edges lower
Pandora fell after a number of funds who invested in the Danish maker of charm bracelets agreed to sell a stake worth 4.51bn kroner.
HeidelbergCement declined after Berenberg downgraded construction stocks, including the German company, to 'hold' from 'buy', citing share price rises over the past year. Holcim Ltd and Lafarge SA also slipped on the back of downgrades out of Berenberg.
Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA advanced following reports US private equity firm JC Flowers is considering buying a stake in Italy's third-biggest bank as a long-term investor.
Vivendi gained after confirming it is in talks to sell its SFR telecom unit to Altice, the owner of French cable group Numericable.
The euro rose 0.235% to $1.3916.
Brent crude futures advanced $0.977 to $108.450 per barrel, according to the ICE.