By Jonathan Cable
LONDON (Reuters) - 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 on Wednesday.
Signs of slower growth, coupled with firms cutting prices at an even faster rate, will add to pressure on the European Central Bank ahead of its monetary policy meeting on Thursday.
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 bank President Mario Draghi said last month the bank was prepared to respond with all its available tools if inflation which was just 0.3 percent in August - were to drop further.
The composite output price PMI, which has been sub-50 since April 2012, fell to a three-month low of 48.9 from July's 49.0 as firms cut prices to drum up trade.
A Reuters poll of economists last week gave a median 75 percent chance the ECB will launch a quantitative easing programme by March, buying asset-backed securities in a bid to prevent deflation and jumpstart economic growth. [ECB/INT]
Growth in the bloc's 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 subindex 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.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)