European shares fell to a fresh 5-month low on Friday after a slew of data which showed that the euro zone debt crisis was hurting the region's biggest economies.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index fell as much as 1.6 percent to an intraday low of 959.84 points - its weakest level since falling to an intraday low of 952.55 points on December 20. The index was down 1.1 percent at 962.48 points by 11:40 SA time.

Germany's DAX index dropped by 1.9 percent, France's CAC-40 fell 1 percent and Britain's FTSE 100 index fell 0.4 percent.

The decline was exacerbated by many traders retreating to the sidelines ahead of the publication of US jobs data at 14:30 SA time.

A business survey on Friday showed that the euro zone's manufacturing sector contracted at its steepest pace in nearly three years in May, while Italy's April jobless rate reached a new record high of 10.2 percent.

Germany's manufacturing sector also contracted at the fastest pace for almost three years in May, as flagging demand from the euro zone and further afield challenges the country's resilience to the debt crisis.

“We risk going down in flames,” said ClairInvest fund manager Ion-Marc Valahu.

JN Financial senior trader Adrian Redmond said he remained negative on the outlook for equities markets, given fears over the debt-ridden Spanish and Greek economies and signs of a slowdown in the United States and China.

“I'm pretty bearish,” he said. - Reuters