Thursday, Eurozone industrial production fell at a record pace in February, while annual inflation in March dropped to an all-time low, adding pressure on the European Central Bank to take more unconventional measures in its next rate-setting session.

European passenger car registrations fell for the eleventh consecutive month in March, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association revealed. Car registrations were down 9% in March after declining around 18% in February.

Meanwhile, the UK government announced financial support for motorists to encourage the purchase of electric and plug in hybrid cars that will reduce carbon emission.

Eurozone

Data from the Eurostat showed that industrial output fell 18.4% year-on-year in February after falling a revised 16% in January. The decline was slightly quicker than the expected fall of 18%. Output was down 2.3% month-on-month following a revised 2.4% decline in January, while economists had expected a 2.5% fall for February.

In a separate report, the Eurostat confirmed euro area annual inflation at 0.6% in March, which was the lowest rate since the launch of euro ten years ago. Consumer price inflation eased from February's 1.2% and 3.6% in the year-ago period.

The German Federal Statistical Office said the number of employees working in manufacturing units with 50 or more employees, fell 0.3% year-on-year in February to 5.2 million.

Italy's statistical office ISTAT said the consumer price index, or CPI, including tobacco rose 1.2% year-on-year in March after rising 1.6% in February. Thus, the statistical office confirmed its preliminary estimate released on March 31.

At the same time, the ISTAT revised harmonized index of consumer prices, or HICP, figures. The HICP rose 1.2% on a monthly basis and 1.1% annually. Initially, the HICP monthly growth was estimated at 1.1%, while the annual growth at 1%.

Retail sales in the Netherlands fell 8.5% year-on-year in February, the first decline since 2000, the Central Bureau of Statistics said. Separately, the statistical office said the jobless rate in January to March rose to 4.4% from 4.1% in December to February and 3.9% in November to January.

Statistics Austria said in a report that consumer prices rose 0.8% year-on-year in March, slowing from a 1.3% rise in the previous month. The statistical office said the consumer price inflation in March was the lowest since November 1999.

Slovakia's HICP rose 1.8% year-on-year in March, slowing from a 2.4% rise in February, the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic said.

Malta's HICP rose 3.9% year-on-year in March, at a faster pace compared to a 3.5% increase in February, the National Statistics Office said.

Slovenia's jobless rate increased to 8.2% in February from 7.8% in the previous month, the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia reported.

The Statistical Service of the Republic of Cyprus said the overall public sector balance registered a surplus of EUR 157.2 million or 0.9% of GDP in 2008.

Rest of Europe

In a joint statement, the Department for Transport and the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory reform said the UK government will provide help worth GBP 2000 to GBP 5000 to ordinary motorists towards the purchase of the first electric and plug in hybrid cars. These hybrids are expected to hit the showrooms in 2011.

The funding is part of a GBP 250 million scheme to deliver a green motoring transformation, part of government's wider support to help consumers and businesses switch to low carbon.

The substantial cuts in UK interest rates and more quantitative easing are likely to have a significant impact on demand in the British economy, the Bank of England monetary policy member-designate David Miles said in an interview with the Western Mail newspaper.

The British Retail Consortium reported that overall sales in March were up 0.6% from the year before. Same-store sales values declined 1.2%.

The Federal Statistical Office said Swiss producer and import prices fell 0.5% in March from the previous month, taking the annual decline to 2.8%. Producer and import prices declined primarily due to lower prices of oil and metal products. Economists were looking for a monthly 0.2% fall and an annual decline of 2.4% in March.

Consumer confidence in Turkey improved in March, with the index rising to 74.77 from 74.01 in February, a report from the Turkish Statistical Institute showed.

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