Eurozone manufacturing sees 'signs of moderating'

Markit's senior economist Rob Dobson: "There's some sign of light at the end of the tunnel"

The decline in the eurozone's manufacturing sector has eased, a closely watched survey indicates, in a rare spot of good news for the region.

Markit's eurozone manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index rose to 46.3 in December from 46.2 in November. A reading below 50 indicates contraction.

The research firm said the rate of decline in manufacturing "showed signs of moderating".

But the service sector dropped to its weakest levels since July.

Including services and manufacturing, the eurozone PMI composite output index was at 47.3, up from 46.5 in November.

Return to growth?

"The eurozone downturn showed further signs of easing in December, adding to hopes that the outlook for next year is brightening," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

"A return to growth is looking like an increasing possibility in the first half of next year, barring any surprises, if the recent improvements in the survey data can be sustained. The turnaround is being led by Germany."

Total output from Germany rose for the first time in eight months "though the increase was only very modest as an upturn in the service sector was offset by a faster decline in manufacturing production", the survey said.

Output fell for the 10th month in a row in France. Earlier on Friday, Fitch kept the French government's top AAA credit rating, making it the only major ratings agency left to say the country deserves to be among the world's most creditworthy borrowers.

In the eurozone, only Germany still has an AAA rating from all three major ratings agencies.

Markit said that eurozone confidence remained lower than at any time since before the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Separately, a survey showed China's huge manufacturing sector expanded in December at its fastest pace in 14 months as new orders and employment rose,

The HSBC PMI for December rose to 50.9, the highest level since October 2011. It was the fifth straight month of gains.

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