European stocks mixed as week begins

European stock markets were mixed in afternoon trading on Monday as a credit downgrade for Italy and disappointing Chinese economic data offset positive job numbers out of the United States, analysts said.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies gained 0.15 percent to 6,495.99 points while Frankfurt's DAX 30 fell 0.18 percent to 7,971.98 points and the CAC 40 dropped 0.31 percent to 3,828.39 points in Paris.

In Madrid the Ibex 35 was off by 0.88 percent and Milan had given up 0.76 percent.

The euro stood at $1.2996 compared to $1.3004 late on Friday in New York. Gold prices fell to $1,577.50 an ounce on the London Bullion Market from $1,581.75 Friday.

"After an excellent performance last week, European equities are heading slightly lower," said Gekko Global Markets trader Anita Paluch.

"Not surprisingly, Italy’s angst is affecting the mood -- the political gridlock is taking its toll in the form of a most recent downgrade by Fitch... Also the Chinese inflation data contributes to the risk-off environment," she added.

Italy's economy shrank by 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from the previous one, data showed on Monday, confirming a previous estimate that underscored a deeper recession in the eurozone's third largest economy.

The data came after international ratings agency Fitch on Friday said it had downgraded Italy's sovereign debt rating by one notch to "BBB+" from "A-" and added that the outlook was negative.

Fitch pointed in particular to "the inconclusive results of the Italian parliamentary elections on 24-25 February" which "make it unlikely that a stable new government can be formed in the next few weeks."

In New York, US stocks opened modestly lower on Monday from the Dow's record-breaking run last week, as Chinese and European data highlighted the ongoing struggle of global economic powers.

In morning trades, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down just 0.04 percent, while the broader S&P 500 fell 0.17 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.24 percent.

On Friday, the Dow broke above 14,400 points for the first time after the Labor Department reported the United States generated a net 236,000 new jobs in February, far more than expected. The US unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent.

The report reinforced views that the US economy is solidifying its recovery, while analysts said underlying figures and upcoming spending cuts meant the Federal Reserve was unlikely to take its foot off its monetary easing soon.

In Asia meanwhile, stock markets closed with mixed results earlier on Monday, with Shanghai dipping as disappointing economic data fuelled concerns about China's economy.

Chinese inflation hit a 10-month high in February while growth in industrial production and retail sales slowed, official data showed on Saturday, complicating policymakers' efforts to boost recovery.

Growth in the world's second-largest economy slowed to a 13-year low of 7.8 percent in 2012, although a pick-up in the final three months have raised hopes for a rebound this year.

"This slower than expected pickup in economic activity set against a backdrop of rising prices could well make it difficult for Chinese authorities to be as proactive at stimulating growth as they would like in the coming months, which in turn could raise concerns about the strength and pace of the recent recovery," said Michael Hewson, senior analyst at London-based traders CMC Markets.