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Europe Consumer Confidence Gains, Adding to Stability Signs

Euro-area consumer confidence improved for a second month in February, adding to signs the region’s economy is stabilizing after contracting in the fourth quarter.

An index of household sentiment in the 17-nation euro area rose to minus 20.2 from minus 20.7 in January, the Brussels-based European Commission said in an initial estimate today. Economists had forecast a gain to minus 20.1, the median of 26 estimates in a Bloomberg survey showed.

European retailers are seeking ways to cope with slowing global growth and the region’s debt crisis that has forced governments from Spain to France to step up budget cuts. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, investor confidence jumped to a 10-month high in February and services industries expanded last month.

“We’re past the worst provided the debt crisis won’t worsen,” said Christoph Weil, a senior economist at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “We still see a slight economic contraction in the first quarter followed by an expansion. Sentiment should continue to improve.”

The euro was little changed against the dollar after the data, trading at $1.3226 at 4:06 p.m. in Brussels, down 0.1 percent on the day.

The European Central Bank, which has provided lenders with unlimited cash up to three years, purchased government bonds and lowered borrowing costs, estimated the euro-region economy will expand about 0.3 percent this year and 1.3 percent in 2013. ECB President Mario Draghi said on Feb. 9 that he sees some “tentative signs of stabilization in economic activity.”

The commission will publish its latest economic forecasts on Feb. 23.

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