Euro zone business activity hit a near three-year high in April as a modest economic recovery gained momentum and began creating much-needed jobs, a closely watched survey showed on Wednesday.
Market Economics said its Euro zone Composite Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for April, a leading indicator of overall economic activity, jumped to 54 points from 53.1 in March, the highest reading since May 2011.
The report also marks the 10th month running for which it has come in above the 50-points boom-or-bust line, reinforcing the view the recovery is finally taking hold.
"The euro zone has started the second quarter on a solid footing," Market chief economist Chris Williamson said in a statement.
"A welcome quickening in the pace of growth of business activity in April means the region is expanding at the fastest rate for almost three years," Williamson said.
The outcome suggested the Eurozone economy will grow by 0.5 percent in the second quarter, up from 0.4 percent in the first three months of the year, he added.
The upturn in overall business activity was driven by goods producers, although the survey suggested a strong performance of the euro zone s services economy also played a part.
The PMI relating specifically to services showed an increase in activity for a ninth consecutive month, with a rise to 53.1 points from 52.2 in March.
Market attributed the sector s strong performance to the "largest rise in new business inflows" seen over the past nine months.
Manufacturing hit a three-month high of 53.3 points in April, up from 53.0 in March, with a sharp increase in new orders suggesting further gains in May.
The euro zone finally got out of a record 18-month recession in second quarter 2013 with growth of 0.3 percent but slipped back to 0.1 percent in the third before recovering to 0.3 percent again in the last three months of the year.
"The return to job creation across the region is also very encouraging news in respect of companies believing that the recovery has legs and is looking increasingly sustainable," Williamson said.
- Recovery picking up momentum -
Peter Vanden Houte, from ING Bank, said the PMI report adds weight to the theory that the eurozone recovery "has legs" but warned that the risk of deflation remained, given recent very notable price weakness.
Capital Economics analyst Jessica Hinds said the ongoing risk of deflation put pressure on the European Central Bank to take "more action" to stimulate the economy, a point made by most analysts.
Howard Archer at IHS Global Insight noted in particular the improvement in manufacturing as a positive sign and said the report was consistent with first quarter growth of 0.4 percent.
At the same time, Archer highlighted the continued divergence between strongly-growing Germany and laggard France.
"German expansion was robust with both manufacturing and, especially, services activity accelerating," he said.
"In contrast, the fragility of French growth was evident as manufacturing and services expansion disappointingly lost momentum in April."
The lacklustre French performance was a "vote of no confidence in the government by business," said Christian Schulz at Berenberg Bank.
It adds to pressure on Paris to deliver tax cuts and "shake up" the labor market," Schulz said.
Germany s composite PMI rose from 54.3 to 56.3, its second-highest reading in almost three years, while France fell from 51.8 to 50.5.