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European Shares Hit as Euro Zone Back in Recession

European stocks ended lower on Thursday, with a key index hitting a two-month low, as data that showed the euro zone had slipped into recession again spooked investors.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares unofficially closed 0.9 percent lower at 1,078.90 points, a level not seen since early September.

Swiss and German stocks where among the worst hit, with HeidelbergCement down 2.6 percent, ThyssenKrupp down 2.3 percent and Roche down 1.8 percent.

However, mounting expectation that Spain would request a bailout helped limit the losses, with Madrid's IBEX gaining 0.3 percent and euro zone banking stocks rallying.

Despite the day's losses, IG market analyst Jerome Vinerier said the overall market remains without a clear direction.

"Apart from the DAX which has started to take a hit, European indexes are mostly in a consolidation mode, moving sideways," he said. "We're not getting any 'sell' signals, keeping in mind that just a week ago a lot of indexes were testing year highs."

Euro zone data showed that the region slipped into recession in the third quarter of 2012, as French resilience failed to mitigate the effect of a slump in Germany.

Germany's economic growth slowed to 0.2 percent in the third quarter over the previous quarter, while Spain's economy contracted 0.3 percent. Both were in line with expectations.

On the other hand, data from France showed the economy grew 0.2 percent, better than forecasts for zero growth. The euro zone economy as a whole contracted 0.1 percent in the third quarter, following a contraction of 0.2 percent in the second quarter.

Ex-Europe, China's Communist Party unveiled its new leadership on Thursday, confirming Xi Jinping's elevation to top spot as the next President and party chief and Li Keqiang as Prime Minister.

Speaking after his election Xi said he and his party face "severe challenges" and problems within the party such as corruption, bureaucracy and being out of touch with the people. Xi added that it was the duty of the party to reform.

The seven-man Politburo Standing Committee — China's most powerful group of senior leaders overseeing the Republic's governance under Xi Jinping — was also named.