European stock markets fluctuated early Thursday, weighed by declines in Asian bourses after a Chinese manufacturing gauge signaled a surprise contraction for January. Equities in Europe were little changed after following a quite volatile start this morning, while sentiment in the Asian stock markets was hampered after a preliminary reading of China's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) plummeted for the first time in six months in January, to 49.6 from 50.5 last month, which reignited fears about the recovery of the world's second-largest economy. As of 00:00 EST , Europe`s Stoxx 600 was nearly flat around 335.57. The benchmark was boosted earlier by data showing euro-area factory output expanded faster than economists forecast this month, overshadowing the disappointment out of Chinese output. - Britain`s FTSE 100 fell 0.20% to 6,812.47 - France`s CAC 40 fell 0.04% to 4,323 - Germany`s DAX 30 fell 0.28% to 9,692.80 Markit Eurozone PMI signaled the euro area private sector economy expanded for a seventh straight month in January, with the rate of growth picking up to the fastest since June 2011 . The Composite PMI rose from 51.1 in December to 53.2, beating analysts' average forecast of 52.5. More PMI numbers from Markit also signaled that growth accelerated in German and the rate of downturn eased in France , while the rest of the bloc also saw strengthening upturn. The Chinese output disappointment has obviously weighed down on Europe , as many analysts warned that economic numbers from the Chinese government dramatically overestimate growth. In fact, few analysts suggest that China's economy is actually contracting. Also fanning the negative sentiment, Spain's unemployment rose to 26.03% in the fourth quarter, from 25.98% in a quarter ago.
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