European stocks steady after weak eurozone data

European stocks steadied Friday and the euro hit a three-week low versus the dollar after the release of gloomy eurozone manufacturing data and ahead of key US jobs figures that were expected to come in strong, dealers said.

In late morning deals, London's benchmark FTSE 100 index of top companies fell 0.11 percent to 5,855.69 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 firmed 0.12 percent to 7,344.75 points and in Paris the CAC 40 eased 0.02 percent to 3,474.82.

In foreign exchange activity, the euro slid to $1.2865 -- the lowest level since October 11. It later stood at $1.2887, which compared with $1.2940 late in New York on Thursday.

Gold prices decreased to $1,708.95 an ounce on the London Bullion Market, down from $1,716.25 Thursday.

The eurozone manufacturing sector was stuck in the doldrums for a fifteenth consecutive month in October, getting the fourth quarter off to a weak start and offering no hope for change in the near future, a key survey showed Friday.

The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) compiled by the Markit research firm put the manufacturing sector on 45.4 points, better than the initial figure of 45.3 given last week but still down sharply from 46.1 in September. Anything above 50 points to growth while anything below is a contraction.

Markit said the downturn "not only deepened but also widened" in the latest survey, noting a further deterioration in new orders while new export orders fell for the 16th month in a row in October.

Job losses mounted for a ninth successive month and at the fastest rate since July, it added.

The rate of contraction accelerated in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, which was on a 2-month low of 46 points; and in Italy, Spain, Austria and Greece, while France was slowing faster than its peers.

"The weaker PMIs merely confirm the view that economic conditions in Europe show no signs of picking up with the euro slipping back as a result," said Michael Hewson, analyst at trading group CMC Markets.

"The latest (US) jobs report could well give markets a boost, however it would really need a very good number for the markets to move out of its recent ranges."

European equities had risen on Thursday following a barrage of positive earnings reports and buoyant US data, while investors shrugged off the latest twist in Greece's saga to unlock bailout funding.

Wall Street's three main indexes saw healthy gains on Thursday, their second day back after a two-day closure caused by superstorm Sandy, thanks to a bright batch of indicators that suggest the economy is gaining strength.

The US Conference Board index of consumer confidence for October rose to a better-than-forecast 72.2 in October, from a revised 68.4 in September, pointing to a pick-up in the crucial manufacturing sector.

Also, the Labor Department said weekly jobless claims continued their decline, falling a modest 9,000 to 363,000 last week -- below the four-week moving trend of 367,250.

Adding to the sense of optimism, payrolls company ADP's private sector hiring report was better than expected, though at 162,000 jobs in September was still down by 14 percent from August.

That provided hopes for closely-watched non-farm payrolls results due out of Washington later Friday, at 1230 GMT, with expectations for another rise in job creation.

"November got off to a fine start yesterday, as a string of earnings updates and better US data put investors in an optimistic frame of mind," said analyst Chris Beauchamp at trading group IG.

"Today sees some trimming of positions, a not unexpected occurrence, but the strong ADP number means that investors are more confident that non-farms will beat expectations."

Asian stock markets on Friday won a boost from the upbeat global economic data and gains in New York share prices.

Hong Kong climbed 1.33 percent, Seoul 1.07 percent, Shanghai closed up 0.60 percent, while Tokyo jumped 1.17 percent on the back of the weaker yen.

burs-rfj/bcp/wai

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