Before Vote

Italian consumer confidence unexpectedly rose this month as households await the outcome of the Feb. 24-25 election.

The confidence index rose to 86 from a revised 84.7 in January, the Italian statistics office Istat said in Rome today. Economists had predicted a reading of the index to remain unchanged at 84.6, according to the median of eight forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey.

The Bank of Italy said on Jan. 18 that it expects household spending to decline 1.9 percent this year. Italy’s economy contracted the most in almost four years in the quarter through December as its fourth recession since 2001 deepened.

Both the government and the central bank expect a recovery in the second half of this year amid increasing exports. Economists and businessmen are less optimistic about a pick-up in domestic demand as unemployment tops 11.2 percent.

Final Days

Candidates are set to hold separate press conferences tonight in a bid to win over voters who are undecided or may not cast ballots, a group totalling about 30 percent of the electorate according to polling companies. Final surveys before a poll ban started Feb. 9 showed Democratic Party head Pier Luigi Bersani’s lead over rival Silvio Berlusconi narrowing to about 6 percentage points in the vote for the lower house of Parliament.

Prime Minister Mario Monti, who’s seeking a second term, has accused Berlusconi of trying to buy votes with “state money” by promising to cut taxes and refund almost 4 billion euros ($5.3 billion) collected last year from a property tax on first homes.

Comedian Beppe Grillo, whose anti-establishment movement is appealing to voters weary of political corruption, was polling third before Monti’s coalition of centrists parties.

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