Thursday, industrial new orders to the euro area fell at a record annual pace in February, reflecting a fall in the global demand. French business confidence increased more than expected in April, the first increase after a series of declines in past several months, official data revealed.

Eurozone

Data released by the Eurostat showed that new orders dropped 34.5% year-on-year in February after falling a revised 34.3% in January. Economists had expected a decline of 34.8% for February. New orders fell for the seventh straight month and the February decline was the largest since the data series began in 1996.

Indicating that the pace of slowdown is easing in Eurozone, the composite, manufacturing and services purchasing managers' indexes, or PMIs rose to six-month highs in April, reports showed citing data from the Markit Economics.

Euro area's working day and seasonally adjusted current account deficit contracted to EUR 8.1 billion in February from a revised EUR 12.3 billion deficit in January, the European Central Bank said. Economists had expected the deficit to narrow to EUR 10.7 billion.

The French statistical office INSEE said the business sentiment index rose to 71 in April from 68 recorded in March. Economists had expected the reading to edge up to 69. The general production outlook indicator jumped to minus 18 from a revised minus 66 in the previous month, while the consensus forecast was for a reading of minus 67.

Spain's National Institute of Statistics reported that the industrial producer price index dropped 2.4% year-over-year in March, after falling 1.1% in February. Economists had predicted a decline of 1.9%.

Statistics Finland said manufacturing turnover dropped 15.9% year-on-year in the November to January period, reflecting a 15% fall in domestic sales and a 16.6% decline in export turnover.

Ireland's Central Statistics Office announced that the manufacturing output prices rose 4.5% year-over-year in March, larger than the 3.9% increase in the previous month.

The National Bank of Belgium said the business confidence indicator rose to minus 29.4 in April from minus 31.8 in March.

Rest of Europe

Demand for the British manufactured goods fell at its fastest rate in thirty years in the first quarter, but firms are confident that the pace of decline will slow slightly in the next three months, the latest quarterly Industrial Trends survey by the Confederation of British Industry revealed. For the first time, in seven quarters, business sentiment fell at a slower rate.

Swiss trade surplus narrowed to CHF 0.12 billion in March from CHF 0.72 billion recorded in February, the Federal Customs Administration said. Elsewhere, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH said watch exports plunged 26.6% year-on-year in March.

The Mannheim-based Centre for European Economic Research, or ZEW, said its economic expectations index for Switzerland improved notably in April. The ZEW-CS indicator of economic expectations increased to minus 27.7 in April from minus 57.1 recorded in March.

Statistics Estonia said in a final report that the trade deficit stood at EEK1.1 billion in February, unrevised from the preliminary report. In January, the trade deficit was EEK1.57 billion.

Hungary's Central Statistical Office announced that retail sales dropped 3.2% year-over-year in February, compared with a 2.8% fall in the previous month. Economists were looking a decline of 3.9%.

Statistics Sweden said the jobless rate stood at 8.3% in March, representing an increase of 2 percentage points from the previous year. The rate came in line with economists' expectations.

Producer prices in Latvia rose 1.5% year-on-year in March, at a much slower pace than the 3.9% rise in February, the country's Central Statistics Bureau said.

Tourist arrivals into Turkey totaled 1.21 million in March, down from 1.31 million in the same month the previous year, a report by the country's Ministry of Culture and Tourism said.

The Central Bank of the Russian Federation reduced its key policy rate. The Bank of Russia lowered its refinancing rate by 50 basis points to 12.5%, effective April 24. The central bank reduced its main interest rates for the first time since June 2007, when the rate was slashed to 10% from 10.5%. Further, the central bank cut other interest rates by 50 basis points.

Meanwhile, the Russian central bank hiked the reserve ratio to 1% as of May. Going forward, there will be monthly increases of 50 basis points each until August.

Separately, the central bank reported that the international reserves stood at US$ 384.8 billion as of April 17, up from US$ 383.9 billion in the previous week.

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