* FTSEurofirst 300 down 2.3 percent, down 11 pct in a month
* U.S. data adds to worries over pace of global growth
* Europe’s fear gauge VSTOXX hits 2-year high
* Greek stocks, bonds most hammered in sell-off
* Correction is ‘buying opportunity’ -Amundi’s Boscher
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, Oct 15 (Reuters) - A sell-off in European stocks accelerated on Wednesday as investors slashed exposure to risky assets such as equities and oil on mounting worries about the pace of global growth.
Shares extended their slide in afternoon trading after data showed U.S. retail sales declined in September and prices paid by businesses fell, fuelling concern that consumer demand may be faltering while inflation is failing to gain traction.
Greek equities featured among the top losers, as Athens’s benchmark ATG index succumbed to a second day of selling pressure and sank 6.3 percent. Traders cited political uncertainty and a spike in Greek 10-year bond yields, which rose above 7.6 percent. It was the index’s steepest one-day percentage drop in nearly two years.
“There’s been a big acceleration of the sell-off in stocks, with a spike in risk aversion spreading across the board to bonds and the currency market, and even a return of stress around Greek assets,” Alexandre Baradez, chief market analyst at IG France.
“The newsflow is quickly deteriorating, including today’s U.S. data. It’s nothing to reassure investors. All the ingredients are there for further losses. In this ‘risk-off’ swing, global investors are dumping their most risky holdings, and obviously Greek stocks and bonds fall in this category.”
At 1417 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 2.3 percent at 1,262.49 points, a level not seen since last December. The index has tumbled 11 percent since mid-September as doubts about the strength of the global economy mounted.
The acceleration in the sell-off on Wednesday was reflected in Europe’s ‘fear gauge’, the Euro STOXX 50 Volatility Index, which surged to 28.9 on Wednesday, its highest level since mid-2012.
Shares in oil majors and oil services companies were hammered as Brent crude fell close to a four-year low around $84 a barrel. Total fell 3.2 percent, Repsol lost 2.7 percent and Statoil dropped 3 percent.
Norwegian seismic surveyor Petroleum Geo-Services shares tumbled 4.3 percent. On Wednesday the company cut its 2014 earnings forecast again as oil prices fell and demand from oil companies worsened.
The STOXX Europe 600 energy sector index has slipped into bear market territory, down more than 20 percent since late June.
Pharma stocks also featured among the top losers after U.S. group AbbVie Inc said it was having second thoughts about bidding for British peer Shire because of changing U.S. tax regulations. Shire’s shares plunged 22 percent.
Despite the correction, a number of fund managers see buying opportunities in European equities. They cite attractive relative valuation, the European Central Bank’s recent measures to stave off deflation and support the economy and a slide in the euro currency, which should boost corporate earnings.
“A new recession in Europe has now been priced in, and the correction in stocks is getting close to an end. We now see good entry points, not exit points,” said Romain Boscher, the global head of equities management at Amundi, which has 821 billion euros ($1.04 trillion) under management.
“Even with no economic growth in Europe, there are plenty of positive factors supporting equities: very low refinancing costs for companies, a sliding euro which will boost margins, and very attractive dividend yields compared with what investors get in the fixed income space.”
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up
Editing by Larry King