The real economy across the eurozone is suffering a painful contraction amid deep uncertainty over Europe's response to the debt crisis, analysts said on Monday after the release of downbeat new data.
Private sector activity across the 17 states that share the single currency slid further in October, a deterioration highlighting the threat of recession, a closely-watched survey showed.
The survey of 4,500 eurozone companies indicated a second consecutive month of contraction amid weaker demand for goods and services, according to the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) compiled by Markit research firm.
The PMI sank to 47.2 points in October, the fastest rate of decline since July 2009, after falling to 49.1 points in September. A score below 50 indicates contraction.
This "signals a heightened risk of the eurozone sliding back into recession," said Markit chief economist Chris Williamson.
He added that a "near-stalling of job creation" suggested that companies are "bracing themselves" for hard times.
Germany, Europe's economic locomotive, logged "another very modest expansion of output" after strong growth in the first half of the year, Markit said. German manufacturers reported the first drop in production since June 2009.
In France, the second biggest European economy, manufacturing and services output fell for the first time since July 2009 while the rest of the eurozone contracted for the fifth month in a row.
Paris-based BNP Paribas analyst Clemente De Lucia said the 51.2 logged in Germany, up on the previous month, compared badly to the 46.8 posted in France, the latter's "lowest level in more than two years."
With the rest of the eurozone also "deteriorating," he said that "markets will remain nervous until they do not get more substantial details on the crisis resolution mechanism" European Union leaders are racing to fix before facing G20 partners at a Cannes summit on November 3-4.
US President Barack Obama is leading G20 pressure having warned that the eurozone crisis is "scaring" the world.
For London-based Morgan Stanley analyst Olivier Bizimana, the "significant slowdown" left him tipping a 0.3-percent eurozone contraction in the last three months of 2011.
He said prospects of a December interest-rates cut by the European Central Bank were rising.
European shares mostly rose and the euro spiked to bear a seven-week dollar high, as investors cautiously welcomed the weekend's EU debt summit -- although gains were tempered by the PMI numbers.