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EUROPE MARKETS: Europe Stocks Fall On FOMC Minutes, PMIs

02/21/2013 | 04:02am US/Eastern

By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- European stock markets staged broad-based losses on Thursday, after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest meeting illustrated different views over the bank's monetary-easing program and French manufacturing data disappointed.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index lost 1.1% to 286.86, with banks and mining firms posting some of the biggest declines.

Shares of heavyweight miner BHP Billiton PLC (>> BHP Billiton Limited) shaved off 2.9%, after Citigroup cut the firm to neutral from buy, saying that positive catalysts such as capital-expenditure cuts and cost reductions are now priced in.

Shares of AXA SA gave up 3.7%, as the insurance firm reported a drop in 2012 profit.

Investors further trained their attention on the U.S., where minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's January meeting released late Wednesday showed some members expressed concerns about the $85 billion monthly asset purchases. Several members said the central bank should prepare to vary the pace of the quantitative-easing plan depending on the outlook.

Back in Europe, preliminary readings of purchasing managers' indexes from the major economies stole the limelight. The manufacturing PMI for Germany rose to 50.1, a 12-month high, while the same reading for France climbed to 43.6, marking a 2-month high. The French reading, however, missed expectations. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Germany's DAX 30 index sank 1.5% to 7,610.84, with Deutsche Bank AG (>> Deutsche Bank AG (USA)) down 3.7% and Commerzbank AG off 3.2%.

In France, Société Générale SA dropped 2.6%. The CAC 40 index erased 1.5% to 3,653.12.

U.K.'s FTSE 100 index lost 1.3% to 6,310.09. Shares of HSBC Holdings PLC (>> HSBC Holdings plc) lost 1.7%.

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