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Tech-Stock Slump Extends to Europe -- Update

By Tommy Stubbington and Mia Lamar European shares retreated from six-year highs Monday, following Asian markets lower, dented by a selloff in technology stocks on Wall Street late last week that spilled over into global stock markets. Further confrontation in Ukraine added to market tension, following unrest in the east of the country as small bands of pro-Russian protesters took control of regional government offices. Russian stocks fell sharply. The Stoxx Europe 600 index was 1.0% lower early afternoon, poised to snap a nine-day winning streak that had come as investors bet on further easing measures from the European Central Bank, which dropped hints last week it is considering a program of quantitative easing. Friday's U.S. jobs data, which fell slightly short of expectations but indicated solid growth in the world's largest economy, was initially received well. But U.S. markets turned sour after the European close, as the recent selloff in technology shares intensified. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index fell 2.6%. Highflying tech stocks around the world have registered widespread losses in the past month as investors question fast-rising valuations. "These stocks lost touch with what we would call reasonable valuations some time ago," said Erwin Sanft, head of Chinese equity strategy for Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. The selling continued in Monday's Asian session, with investors unloading tech stocks as Tokyo's Nikkei index shed 1.7%. Electronics maker Panasonic slid 4.7% and semiconductor-equipment maker Tokyo Electron was off 2.6%. In Europe, the Stoxx 600 technology subindex followed suit, falling 1.7% Monday as tech heavyweights such as Nokia and ARM Holdings were hit. U.S. stocks futures pointed to further declines, with the S&P 500 set for a 0.4% opening loss. Changes in futures don't necessarily predict market moves after the opening bell. Germany's DAX was down 1.5%, despite data showing German industrial output increased 0.4% on the month in February, beating economists' expectations of a 0.2% monthly rise. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 was 0.8% lower. A strong run had left European markets vulnerable to some profit-taking ahead of the first-quarter reporting season, according to Julian Chillingworth, chief investment officer at Rathbones, which manages GBP20 billion ($33.13 billion) in assets. "Analysts have continued to mark down expectations, but the hope is that current stock ratings will be justified [by earnings growth]," he said. Elsewhere, Russian assets came under renewed pressure after antigovernment protesters calling for closer ties with Moscow seized regional government headquarters in two cities in Ukraine's east Sunday. The selloff accelerated as protesters in the Donetsk government building declared the creation of a separatist "Donetsk People's Republic." The Micex stock index was 3.3% lower and the dollar-denominated RTS Index was down 4.4%, while the ruble weakened 1.0% against the dollar. In corporate news, shares in Holcim and Lafarge--the world's largest cement makers--climbed after the companies confirmed they are planning a round of asset sales in a bid to seek regulatory approval for their planned $50 billion merger. There was also a shake-up in the French telecom sector, after billionaire Patrick Drahi won the bidding war for Vivendi's mobile unit, agreeing a deal worth more than GBP23 billion. Vivendi shares rose on Monday, while Bouygues fell after its own bid failed. Rival firm Iliad also saw its stock decline. Lukas I. Alpert in Moscow contributed to this article. Write to Tommy Stubbington at [email protected] and Mia Lamar at [email protected]

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