French business output grew in March, PMI survey says

car factory Markit says the eurozone recovery is "gaining traction"

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France's private sector companies grew at their fastest pace in two and a half years in March, bucking forecasts for a further contraction, a survey says.

The preliminary estimate of Markit's composite Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for France was 51.6 in March, up from February's 47.9 reading and above the 50 level that indicates expansion.

It came as business growth in the eurozone slowed slightly last month.

The eurozone composite PMI for March was 53.2, just below February's 53.3.

However, the eurozone's economy has now grown for nine months in a row, according to Markit, and is set to expand by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2014.

The survey also found that employment had increased, albeit slightly, for the second month in a row.

"The recovery is gaining traction. One of the particularly encouraging signs policymakers will take from this is that it has broadened out to encompass France," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

Economists had expected French private sector businesses to continue to contract in March.

"The surveys suggest that that the eurozone's recovery is gradually becoming more firmly established," said Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Global Insight.

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