European markets cautious on Fed's minutes

European stocks tumbled in the opening minutes of trade as the US Federal Reserve's meeting-minutes that indicated differing opinions on the current stimulus plan sparked economic concerns.

FTSEurofirst 300 fell 0.5 percent to 1162.61. The UK's FTSE 100 dipped 0.6 percent while France's CAC-40 fell 0.7 percent. Germany's DAX was down 0.6 percent. The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.3 percent to 287.81.

The single currency eased against the dollar, trading at about $1.32.

The US Federal Reserve's January policy meet-minutes, which indicated uncertainties on the current monetary easing measures dampened global market sentiments. The Wall Street had closed lower earlier, prompting Asian markets to follow suit while commodity markets suffered record blows.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average index ended 1.39 percent lower to 11309.13 while South Korea's KOSPI was down 0.47 percent to 2015.22. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.33 percent to 4980.1.

In China, the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 2.97 percent to 2325.95 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.77 percent to 22894.80 towards close.

Commodity markets pulled lower, with oil sector tense on demand concerns. The West Texas Intermediate set for April settlement fell about 92 cents to $94.30 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange before picking up to $94.49 at 06:15 GMT. Brent for April delivery was down 64 cents to $114.94 a barrel in London.

Gold markets too remained weak, with the yellow-metal prices slipping to its lowest level in about seven months.

Preliminary European purchasing managers' index (PMI) figures look set to impact market sentiments in the region during the day. Analysts suggested the numbers could remain steady after having recorded modest progress over the past six months, but added that the data could point to economic contraction in the euro area, stressing the underlying economic weakness.

In the UK, traders are awaiting the January public finance data. The figures come after the country's 4G auctions failed to raise the expected amount announced during the Autumn Statement. Forecasts suggest the figures to be slightly below market expectations, but still an improvement over the previous year.

Among corporate concerns that are expected to weigh on investor sentiments during the day, the London-listed coal mining firm Bumi's shareholders will decide who should control it. The battle between Bumi's British founder Rothschild and the Indonesian Bakrie family which has clouded the company's future had weighed its stocks as much as 70 percent lower since its listing.  

The commodity markets weakness weighed on related stocks in Asia. Japanese heavy machinery firms came under pressure after the world's largest construction and mining equipment maker Caterpillar reported that its sales decline accelerated due to dwindling Asian and US conditions.

Chinese market sentiments were dampened after the Communist government asked regional authorities to ensure property purchase curbs to control the soaring real estate prices. Property prices in major Chinese cities are seen to be rising at an unprecedented rate as the overall economy picks up. The sector is a major contributor to the country's gross domestic product (GDP).