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European Markets Down as Euro-Area GDP Slowdown Adds to Rate-Cut Expectations

European markets were in negative territory Wednesday, as a slowdown in first-quarter euro-area economic growth raised expectations of imminent action by the European Central Bank at Thursday’s rate-setting meeting. In the 18 European countries using the common currency, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in the fourth quarter, down from a 0.3% rise in the previous quarter. That raises pressure on central bankers to take some action to get the region's fragile recovery back on track. In Germany, carmaker Volkswagen AG fell after it sold €2 billion in new preferred shares to fund its takeover of Swedish truckmaker Scania AB, while Swiss duty-free retailer Dufry AG rose on a $1.73 billion acquisition of domestic peer Nuance Group to make a splash in the Mediterranean region. Japan’s Dai-Ichi Life rose on an agreement to buy Protective Life Corp. for $5.7 billion.