Europe Markets

US Data Push European Stocks Lower

European stocks ended lower across the board Friday after data showed manufacturing in the U.S. Midwest fell to the lowest level in over six years, worsening the outlook for the world's biggest economy.

U.S. consumer sentiment data also dropped to a 16-year low in February, hitting levels that usually sound the alarm bells of recession.

The prospect of a U.S. recession scared investors and the dollar fell to a three-year low against the yen and oil reached a new all-time high of $103. Gold also hit new record of $973.10 an ounce.

In corporate news, shares of Swiss Re surged over 5 percent, despite a general weakness in financial stocks, after the world’s largest reinsurer announced a smaller-than-expected 9 percent decline in full-year net profit. Swiss Re also revealed an additional $225 million loss in credit default swaps.

French-Belgian bank Dexiabeat forecasts for the fourth quarter, with the performance of its public finance division boosting operating profit by 14 percent. 

Vivendi also reported strong full-year earnings. The media group posted an 8 percent rise in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, helped by its Maroc Telecom and pay-TV units.

In the UK, casino operator Rank reported a 6.7 percent fall in annual underlying profit due to deteriorating trading conditions, but said it is transferring its pension operations to Goldman Sachs, which will cut costs.

Advertiser WPP said revenue rose 5 percent last year, in line with expectations and added 2008 revenue growth should exceed that figure.

Swiss tech company Kudelski's shares tumbled more than 18 percent after it reported a heavy fall in full-year net profit, hit by weak third-quarter results at its OpenTV unit.

In economic news, UK house prices fell for the fourth straight month in February, the lowest annual rate of growth in more than two years, according to Nationwide's latest survey.

And Liechtenstein's Prime Minister told the European Union he wanted a "reasonable deal" over tax fraud, while Canada becomes the latest country to launch its own investigations.