LONDON (Reuters) - European shares weakened on Thursday as investors braced for the year's first reading on euro zone business activity for 2013 after data showed that France, the region's second-biggest economy, may be in recession.
Markets are hoping for a modest improvement in the estimates for manufacturing and service sector activity across the euro area for January, due later, to support the recent rallies in equities and peripheral European debt markets.
"January's flash PMI data (for France) signals a very disappointing start to 2013," said Jack Kennedy, senior economist at Markit, which compiles the purchasing managers' index (PMI) data.
Europe's FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> of top company shares fell 0.3 percent to 1,164.30 points after the French data was released, still not far from a peak of 1,170.29 points hit two weeks ago, a level not seen since early 2011.
London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were down by up to 0.5 percent.
"All the major benchmarks are looking overbought, and any short-term correction will be seen as a buying opportunity, but the longer-term trend is still to the upside," said Jawaid Afsar, a sales trader at Securequity.
The euro fell 0.2 percent on the day to hit $1.3286 after Markit said its preliminary composite purchasing managers' index (PMI) for France, covering activity in the services and manufacturing sectors combined, came out at 42.7 for the month, down from 44.6 in December.
The common currency recovered slightly when German PMI data for January showed private-sector activity jumped to its highest level in a year.
The main European tech stock index <.sx8p> was down 0.85 percent after the world's largest technology company, Apple , released disappointing earnings figures after the U.S. markets had closed.
The results had earlier fanned earnings worries across the technology sector in Asia, overshadowing positive data on Chinese manufacturing activity.
China's HSBC flash purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to 51.9 in January to a two-year high, signaling a rebound in manufacturing activity and confirming a recovery in growth in the world's second-largest economy was on track.
(Additional reporting by David Brett; Editing by Will Waterman)
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