LONDON (AP) - Automakers took their toll Wednesday and European markets ended lower after weaker sales data and as BMW cautioned about the currency impact on its earnings.
The benchmark German DAX Xetra 30 index ended down 1.8 percent to 4,309, while France's CAC 40 index slipped 1.4 percent to 4,019.
In London, the FTSE 100-share index closed down 62.6 points, or 1.25 percent, at 4,937.6.
Carmakers came into Europe's focus after the ACEA trade association said Western European auto sales fell 3.1 percent in February, citing a "sluggish'' economy.
Of the top five markets, the U.K., Italy, Germany and Spain all reported declines in new car registrations, with only France reporting growth.
German tires and automotive parts maker Continental AG ended down 1.8 percent.
DaimlerChrysler AG shares fell 2.8 percent as its sales in Western Europe declined 9.5 percent.
After the figures, DaimlerChrysler said it was replacing the head of sales and marketing at its Mercedes car group, which has seen earnings plunge amid quality problems and the dollar's weakness against the euro.
Renault SA slipped 2.3 percent as its sales fell 11.6 percent, and Peugeot SA declined 2 percent as its sales ebbed 3.3 percent.
BMW AG fell 0.9 percent. The group said it sees challenges in 2005 of increased market competition, the weaker U.S. dollar and rising raw material costs.
"Despite these adverse factors, the BMW Group aims for 2005 to achieve approximately the high earnings level of 2004'' it said.
BMW said new passenger car registrations surged 24 percent in February from last year, boosted by a 36.4 percent increase in BMW-branded sales.
Swiss drugmaker Roche Holdings Ltd. fell 1 percent, a victim of the negative market mood despite being upgraded by both Smith Barney and Credit Suisse First Boston.
Smith Barney upgraded Roche to "buy'' from "hold'' following positive first indications for the oncology drug Avastin that Roche co-developed with Genentech. CSFB said as it raised its rating on the stock to "outperform'' from "neutral.''
Schering AG, which makes PTK/ZK, a competitor to Avastin, fell 1.6 percent amid speculation that an application for a generic version of Schering's oral contraceptive drug Yasmin has been filed with the Food and Drug Administration.
Outdoor advertising group JC Decaux SA fell as much as 3 percent, following the overall market lower, as it said net income rose 91 percent.
The ad group had already reported a 6.2 percent rise in comparable revenue for 2004.French IT services company Atos Origin SA fell more than 3 percent after morning gains.
It reported fiscal 2004 net profit of euro11 million (US$14.6 million) after a net loss last year of euro169 million.
J.P. Morgan said it believed the European market for IT services was likely to return to growth in 2005 and said pricing pressure would be moderate, but doesn't expect a return to the pricing power that vendors enjoyed in the 1999-2000 period.
Swiss staffing group Adecco SA fell 2.7 percent, reversing early gains, after the group said it anticipates further internal sales growth and margin improvements at or above market levels in 2005.
It said fourth-quarter net income more than doubled to euro105 million (US$140 million) as sales climbed 14 percent to euro4.7 billion (US$6.3 billion). - AP