European Shares, Euro Slip As Euro Zone Recession Deepens

European stock markets were lower and the euro slid against the dollar on Thursday after data showed the euro zone slipped deeper into recession in late 2012 than had been expected.

European stock markets were lower and the euro slid against the dollar on Thursday after data showed the euro zone slipped deeper into recession in late 2012 than had been expected.

But U.S. jobless data and a $23.2 billion bid in cash by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) and private equity firm 3G Capital for ketchup and baby food maker H.J. Heinz (HNZ.N) helped turn sentiment and trim equity losses.

The euro tumbled to a three-week low against the dollar and plunged against the yen after data on gross domestic product painted a dismal picture of the euro zone's economy.

Economic output in the 17-country region fell by 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter, EU statistics office Eurostat said, while Germany contracted by 0.6 percent, marking its worst performance since the global financial crisis was raging in 2009.

The downturn marked the currency bloc's first full year in which no quarter produced growth, extending back to 1995. For the year as a whole, GDP fell by 0.5 percent.

Germany is expected to rebound but the figures suggest the bloc as a whole could remain in recession in the first quarter of this year, despite a recent jump in market sentiment as fears that the currency bloc could fall apart have faded.

"The market has weakened because of the GDP numbers," said Barclays commodities analyst Miswin Mahesh. "It's been a macro sell-off this morning with the GDP numbers coming out rather than any fundamental move in itself. Most asset classes have sold."

MSCI's all-country world equity index .MIWD00000PUS fell 0.2 percent to 355.99.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 11.04 points, or 0.08 percent, at 13,971.87. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was up 0.26 point, or 0.02 percent, at 1,520.59. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was up 1.14 points, or 0.04 percent, at 3,198.02.

Berkshire and the private equity firm will pay $72.50 a share for Heinz, a 19 percent premium to its all-time high. Investors said the deal bodes well for equities, even with the benchmark S&P 500 trading at five-year highs.

"The only reason a company buys another company is because they see an upside. Even though we are at multiyear highs, this kind of activity shows that there is more room for a rally, feeding optimism to the market," said Randy Frederick, director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.

"The jobless claims numbers were solid, and with the European market closing, the news out of Europe is pretty much done for the day."

Initial claims for state jobless aid dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, the Labor Department said, better than markets had expected.

In Europe, the FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 of top companies slipped 0.17 percent to close at 1163.59.

The yen rallied to session highs versus the dollar as investors pared bearish bets on the Japanese currency. The dollar fell as low as 92.92 yen and last traded at 93.12, down 0.27 percent on the day.

The euro fell 0.86 percent to $1.3338.

Oil prices initially fell after euro zone figures curbed expectations of accelerating global growth and higher energy demand. The stronger-than-expected drop in U.S. jobless claims last week helped lift U.S. crude markets, and Brent rebounded to trade slightly above break-even.

Brent crude oil rose 13 cents to $118.01 a barrel. April Brent futures became the front-month contract on Thursday. U.S. crude rose 49 cents to $97.50.

U.S. Treasuries yields edged back from 10-month highs on the euro zone data, helping boost demand for safe-haven debt.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 6/32 in price to yield 2.0347 percent.

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