Manufacturing activity in the debt-stricken eurozone contracted at a faster-than-estimated pace in April, reinforcing a growing fear that the region has slipped into another recession owing to a long-running credit crisis.
The final Markit Economics purchasing managers' index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector released on Wednesday showed a fall in the index to 45.9 from a reading of 47.7 in March and was below a preliminary estimate of 46.0.
This is its lowest reading since June 2009.
A reading of less than 50 indicates a contraction in activity. It has been below the 50 mark that divides growth from contraction for nine months.
National data showed accelerating downturns in Italy, Spain and Greece, while core countries also witnessed shrinking manufacturing activity. The decline in manufacturing activity was the steepest in Greece, Markit said.
Manufacturing activity in Germany, Europe's largest economy, contracted for a second successive month in April while the picture was no different in France.
Germany's manufacturing PMI fell to a 33-month low of 46.2.
In Italy, the euro area's third-largest economy, the manufacturing sector contracted for a ninth straight month while in Spain, activity declined at the fastest pace since June 2009.
"Manufacturing in the euro zone took a further lurch deeper into a new recession in April, with the PMI suggesting that output fell at worryingly steep quarterly rate of over 2%," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.
"It is hard to see where growth will come from in coming months, unless export demand picks up strongly from countries outside of the euro zone," Williamson said.
Manufacturers in the eurozone cut workers at the fastest pace in more than two years in April after new orders fell for the 11th straight month, Markit added.
The eurozone employment index slumped to 47.6 in April, from 48.7 in March, its lowest reading since February 2010.
The PMI's output sub-index slumped to 46.1 from March's 48.7 and below a flash reading of 46.4, a five-month low.