Wednesday 03 September 2014 09.17 by RTE News

Markit's Composite Purchasing Managers' Index fell to an eight-month low of 52.5, well below July's 53.8.
Markit’s Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to an eight-month low of 52.5, well below July’s 53.8.

Euro zone business grew at the slowest rate this year in August as escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine subdued spending and investment, surveys showed today.

Signs of slower growth, as well as firms cutting prices at an even faster rate, will add to pressure on the European Central Bank ahead of its monetary policy meeting tomorrow.

Markit’s Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index, which is based on surveys of thousands of companies across the region and is seen as a good gauge of growth, fell to an eight-month low of 52.5, well below July’s 53.8.

That final reading was also weaker than a preliminary estimate of 52.8, although it was the 14th month above the 50 line that denotes growth.

Growth in Germany, Europe’s powerhouse, eased to a 10-month low while in France, the bloc’s second-biggest economy, activity declined for a fourth month.

“The euro zone economy is defying expectations of gaining momentum, which will no doubt add to calls for the ECB to embark on full-scale quantitative easing,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

Speculation the ECB is preparing to buy assets spiked after its President Mario Draghi said last month the bank was prepared to respond with all its available tools if inflation – which was just 0.3% in August – were to drop further.

The composite output price PMI, which has been below the no change mark of 50 since April 2012, fell to a three-month low of 48.9 from July’s 49 as firms cut prices to drum up trade.

A Reuters poll of economists last week gave a median 75% chance the ECB will launch a quantitative easing programme by March, buying asset-backed securities in a bid to prevent deflation and jump start economic growth.

Growth in the euro zone economy stalled in the second quarter and service firms’ optimism about the future fell to a year-low amid rising tension over Ukraine that has triggered sanctions from the West and countermeasures from Russia.

The business expectations sub-index experienced its biggest one-month fall since the tail end of the financial crisis, sinking to 58.5 from July’s 61.7.

“Tensions in Ukraine are clearly having an impact on confidence, subduing business spending and investment,” Williamson said.

An overall PMI for the dominant service industry fell to 53.1 from 54.2 in July, below the preliminary 53.5.