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Europeans Weigh in on Economy

April 3, 2002

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ European business leaders are becoming more optimistic about an economic recovery but consumers remain skeptical, according to polls released Wednesday by the European Union’s executive office.

The euro-zone’s overall economic sentiment indicator rose to 99.5 in March from 99.3 in February and only half a percentage point lower than in August _ before the post-Sept. 11 downturn.

Industrial confidence rose by more than four points in five countries, including the euro-zone’s largest economies: Germany, France and Italy. It fell in only three countries, Greece, Luxembourg and Austria.

The positive news was due largely to ``significant improvement in production expectations″ as well as increases in orders, the Commission said.

But consumer confidence remained unchanged from March _ largely due to fears about job cuts.

Euro-zone unemployment held at 8.4 percent in February _ the third straight month of no change, according to figures released Wednesday by the EU statistical agency Eurostat.

Economists expect the rate to worsen over the spring since the effects of job cuts announced during the fourth quarter of 2001 are only now taking affect.

``Lagging consumer confidence and its effect on the retail sector has prevented the index from rising further,″ said Daniela Etschberger, euro-zone economist at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in Frankfurt, Germany.

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