By Jonathan Cable
LONDON (Reuters) - Euro zone business growth was much weaker than expected this month as exports fell sharply, hurt by a slowing global economy and an ongoing United States-led trade war, a survey showed on Friday.
The disappointing readings will likely be of concern to policymakers at the European Central Bank who are expected to draw a line under their 2.6 trillion euro (2.30 trillion pounds) asset purchase programme at the end of the year. [ECILT/EU]
IHS Markit's Flash Composite Purchasing Managers' Index fell to 52.4, its lowest since late 2014, from a final October reading of 53.1, missing the median expectation in a Reuters poll for a modest dip to 53.0. The lowest forecast was for 52.3.
However, anything above 50 in the survey, which is regarded as a good guide to economic health, indicates growth.
"This is a symptom of slowing global demand - manufacturing is leading the slowdown. The trade war was widely cited, especially in manufacturing," said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.
An index measuring new export business, which includes trade within member countries, fell from October's 49.2 to 48.9, the lowest since IHS Markit started collecting the data in September 2014.
The PMI survey contradicts a Reuters poll last week which suggested euro zone growth will bounce back to a faster pace this quarter, allowing the European Central Bank to stop buying bonds next month as planned. [ECILT/EU]
Growth was pegged at 0.4 percent in that poll but Williamson said the PMI pointed to a weaker 0.3 percent rate and could fall to 0.2 percent, depending on how December pans out.
A PMI for the bloc's dominant service industry fell to a 25-month low of 53.1 from October's 53.7.
With no sign of an end to the trade war between the United States and China in sight - something already hitting export-sensitive economies like Germany - optimism took a hit. The business expectations index fell to 60.3 from 62.1, its lowest in almost four years.
Manufacturers also struggled this month and their PMI fell to 51.5 from 52.0, a level not seen since mid-2016. An index measuring output, which feeds into the composite PMI, was dangerously close to the break-even mark at 50.4, down from 51.3.
It hasn't been below 50 since June 2013.
That slowing growth came as factories ran down old orders at their fastest rate in almost four years. The backlogs of work index fell to 48.4 from 49.0.
Other forward looking indicators also remained subdued.
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(This story has been refilled to correct billion to trillion in paragraph 2)
(Editing by Toby Chopra)