Euro-area economic confidence jumps to highest level since 2011
BERLIN: Euro-area economic confidence increased more than analysts forecast in March, easing pressure on the European Central Bank to take action next week to counter low inflation and spur growth. An index of executive and consumer sentiment rose to 102.4 from 101.2 in February, the European Commission in Brussels said on Friday. That beat the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 31 economists and is the highest reading since July 2011. ECB President Mario Draghi said on March 25 that the Frankfurt-based central bank's accommodative monetary policy should be increasingly felt throughout the eurozone economy as disruptions in the financial system wane. The Governing Council will keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.25 per cent next week, according to a separate Bloomberg survey. German inflation slowed to 0.9 per cent in March from one per cent in February, in line with economists' estimates, while consumer prices in Spain unexpectedly declined 0.2 per cent this month, data from the countries' statistics offices showed on Friday. Industrial confidence rose to minus 3.3 from minus 3.5 in February, according to Friday's Eurostat report. That follows data by Markit Economics Ltd showing that a gauge of manufacturing output fell to a three-month low in March. Confidence in the services industry increased to 4.2 from 3.3 in February, according to Friday's report. Consumer sentiment improved to minus 9.3 from minus 12.7. Still, the euro area is struggling to shake off the legacy of a debt crisis that sparked a record-long recession and pushed the unemployment rate to an all-time high.