Euro-Area February Economic Confidence Unexpectedly Rises

Euro-area economic confidence unexpectedly increased in February, led by the services industry, easing pressure on the European Central Bank to take action next month to counter low inflation and spur growth.

An index of executive and consumer sentiment rose to 101.2, the highest reading since July 2011, from a revised 101 in January, the European Commission in Brussels said today. That beat the median estimate of 100.7 in a Bloomberg News survey of 31 economists.

“These movements are broadly in line with expectations,” said Anatoli Annenkov, senior economist at Societe Generale SA in London. “Economic conditions seem to have stabilized in many parts of the euro region, while Germany continues to deliver strong numbers.”

ECB President Mario Draghi on Feb. 6 put investors on a month’s notice for further economic stimulus, saying the Frankfurt-based central bank needed “to get more information” on the recovery before making any decision. “We are willing and we are ready to act,” Draghi said after the ECB held its benchmark interest rate at a record-low 0.25 percent.

Since then, the European Commission raised its euro-zone economic growth forecasts for 2014 and 2015 to 1.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. In the last three months of 2013, gross domestic product unexpectedly increased 0.3 percent, extending the euro zone’s expansion to three quarters after a record-long recession.

‘More Bullish’

The commission’s index of industrial confidence improved to minus 3.4 from minus 3.8 in January, today’s report showed. The indexes for the services industry rose to 3.2 from 2.4, and sentiment strengthened in the retail and construction sectors.

Paris-based Air France-KLM Group’s Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac said last week that Europe’s biggest airline expects a “more bullish” economic environment will help an earnings recovery driven by cost cuts this year.

Germany’s Volkswagen AG led a fifth monthly gain in European car sales in January as the region’s registrations advanced 5.2 percent from a year earlier.

Still, not all the news has been positive. While raising its GDP forecast, the European Commission lowered its inflation outlook to 1 percent this year and 1.3 percent in 2015. The ECB seeks an inflation rate of below but close to 2 percent. Unemployment remains near a record.

The commission’s consumer confidence gauge fell to minus 12.7 from minus 11.7 in January, today’s report showed. Sentiment in the financial-services industry also worsened.

“After gross domestic product and PMI data, today’s survey may contribute to reassure the ECB,” London-based Barclays Plc analyst Apolline Menut said by telephone. “Still, the decision will be complex as coming data could raise the pressure for further action, such as a weak reading for the first February inflation estimate.”

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