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European Stocks End Lower, Utilities Drop

European equity markets closed lower across the board Friday, as utilities took a beating on the back of disapointing earnings from Germany's RWE and U.S. stocks fell on recession concerns.

Stocks had been positive earlier in the session following a report that showed euro-zone services growth bounced back in February above forecasts.

In corporate news, Northern Rock’s nationalization came into effect as the HM Treasury said it bought up all of the shares in the troubled lender, according to a government press release. An independent valuer will asses the level of compensation that shareholders are due. The bank’s shares have been suspended since Monday. Friday's closing price was 90 pence.

Also in Britain, Lloyds TSB raised its dividend after full-year profit beat expectations. The UK retail bank said its subprime-related losses now equate 280 million pounds ($547.3 million).

Lloyds TSB shares jumped nearly 5 percent, as the bank said its impact from the credit crunch was limited.

And private equity firm Terra Firma and French utility Suez are reportedly preparing a $2.9 billion counter-bid for waste management company Biffa. Shares of Biffa closed 0.8 percent higher.

German gas utility RWEmissed forecasts on its full-year earnings with an operating profit of $9.55 billion, sending shares down by more than 5 percent. The company said it hopes to raise operating profit by 5 percent a year on average through to 2012.