European stocks retreat on disappointing data, Cyprus

European stock markets slid Thursday as disappointing eurozone data and the Cyprus bailout impasse overshadowed strong Chinese economic performance.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies lost 0.69 percent to close at 6,388.55 points. In Frankfurt, the DAX 30 fell 0.87 percent to 7,932.51 points, while in Paris the CAC 40 dropped 1.43 percent to 3,774.85 points.

Madrid's IBEX 35 shares index dropped 0.77 percent and Milan's FTSE Mib gave up 0.50 percent in value.

"It's debateable as to what has unsettled markets more today, the decision by the ECB to pull the plug on Cyprus's banking system by Monday if no bailout program is agreed, or the disappointing German, French and European PMI data," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

Cyprus politicians on Thursday agreed to set up an investment fund as part of a Plan B to secure a bailout deal with eurozone lenders, while ruling out a tax on bank deposits that sank an earlier deal.

But the European Central Bank turned up the heat, warning Thursday it was ready to pull the plug on emergency funding for Cyprus banks, which would lead to their collapse and the state to default.

The ECB said Cyprus had until Monday to clinch a bailout deal or funds would be cut off, while an EU source said the island had "until Tuesday" to get a workable plan through parliament or risk having to leave the eurozone.

Meanwhile the eurozone Purchasing Managers' Index published by London-based Markit showed that the German economy was starting to be affected by the problems in the rest of Europe and that the French slowdown is accelerating.

Overall the eurozone PMI, a leading indicator of growth, fell to four-month low of 46.5 points in March against 47.9 in February.

Hewson said the disappointing PMI data was probably had more of an impact on investors "if the reaction in the currency markets is anything to go by..."

In London foreign exchange deals, the euro fell to $1.2915 from $1.2937 in New York late on Wednesday. The British pound jumped to $1.5172 from $1.5103 Wednesday and was higher also against the European single currency.

Gold prices edged higher to $1,613.75 an ounce from $1,607.50 Wednesday on the London Bullion Market.

Hewson said "if markets were particularly concerned about the Cyprus situation escalating into something larger, the euro would probably be a lot lower than it currently is now."

A successful Spanish bond auction also allayed concerns that Cyprus would spark contagion that could topple other troubled eurozone states.

Spain's treasury raised a more-than-planned 4.513 billion euros in a sale of two-, five- and 10-year bonds at lower rates.

Asian markets were bolstered after HSBC said manufacturing activity in China improved in March after expanding at its slowest pace in four months in February, lifting hopes for a pick-up in the world's number two economy.

The British banking giant's preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI) came in at 51.7 for the month, from a final 50.4 in February, which was the lowest reading since October, it said in a statement.

Nevertheless Asian markets closed with mixed results.

Tokyo climbed 1.34 percent, as it was boosted by renewed weakness in the yen after the new central bank chief vowed to defeat inflation.

Shanghai gained 0.30 percent, but Seoul closed 0.44 percent lower and Hong Kong shed 0.14 percent.

Sydney fell 0.16 percent owing to political uncertainty after Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a snap leadership vote among her Labor party, which has grown frustrated at its weak showing in polls ahead of a September election.

US stocks moved lower on concerns over the situation in Europe.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.33 percent to 14,463.84 points in midday trade.

The broad-based S&P 500 dropped 0.35 percent to 1,553.25, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index sank 0.65 percent to 3,233.04.