Global service sector surveys highlighted a growing divergence in economic recovery on Friday with a pick up in growth in China and Germany but slowdowns in Britain and Spain and an expected deceleration in the United States.
The data follows sister surveys which earlier this week painted a similar picture for the manufacturing sector although signs of expansion in China and the U.S. revived some investor confidence.
China's service sector expanded at its fastest pace in four months in August on the back of strong domestic demand but the headline figure was below the long-run average of the series.
HSBC said its Purchasing Managers' Index for Chinese services, which account for much less of output than in more developed countries, rose to 57.6 in August from 56.3 in July.
The pace of recovery in the 16-nation euro zone, whose economy is heavily weighted to the service sector, was barely changed in August from July but signaled a growing split, with a pick up in Germany offset by Spain sliding back into contractionary territory.
Markit's Eurozone Services Purchasing Managers' Index for the service sector, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of the euro zone economy, nudged up to 55.9 in August from 55.8 in July -- a strong overall reading.
The surveys highlight the uneven performance of the euro zone economies, with Germany currently performing very well, France decently, Italy growing modestly and Spain and Ireland still struggling to develop recovery, said Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight.
The bloc's economy expanded 1.0 in the second quarter over the first, its fastest pace in more than three years, although that was really a reflection of German resurgence.
Spain's services PMI fell to 49.2, the first time the index has slipped below the 50.0 line that separates growth from contraction since February.
And Britain saw its dominant service sector activity grow last month at its slowest pace since April 2009, with a marked fall in hiring as employers worried about an economic slowdown and public spending cuts.
The headline Markit/CIPS services purchasing managers' index dropped to 51.3 in August from July's 53.1, a much sharper fall than the decline to 52.9 forecast in a Reuters poll.
Governments are turning their focus to slashing budgets as they face up to paying off the billions of dollars pumped into economies to drag them out of the worst post-war recession.
PAYROLLS FORECAST TO FALL AGAIN
A similar index for the United States, due later on Friday, is expected to show a slowing growth rate for services in the world's biggest economy but all eyes will be on U.S. jobs numbers at 1230 GMT.
A reluctance by firms to add staff amid the economic uncertainty and relentless layoffs at cash-strapped state and local governments is expected to produce a third straight month of decline in non-farm payrolls.
In the euro zone there is not at the moment the risk of a double dip, a risk that instead is present in the United States, Hans-Werner Sinn, president of Germany's IFO economic research institute, told reporters in Cernobbio, Italy.
U.S. growth braked to a 1.6 percent annualized rate in the second quarter after a brisk 3.7 percent in Q1.
With unemployment stuck near 10 percent and the impact of the government's $862 billion economic stimulus fading, investors worry that even if the U.S. economy avoids a double-dip recession it may face a period of near-stagnation.
The big question is whether Asia and Europe's biggest powers could carry on prospering or would inevitably be dragged down by the world's largest economy, whose markets they are still heavily reliant on for export demand.
(Additional reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce in London, Alan Wheatley in Beijing and Nigel Tutt in Milan, , editing by Mike Peacock)