Italy Feb Business Morale Up, Consumer Morale Down Before Coronavirus Outbreak
Morale among Italian businesses and consumers moved in opposite directions in February, data showed on Thursday, in surveys conducted before the coronavirus outbreak that has rocked the country over the last week.
National statistics institute ISTAT's manufacturing confidence index rose to 100.6 in February from 100.0 in January, beating a median forecast of 99.4 in a Reuters survey of 13 analysts and posting its highest reading since June last year.
ISTAT's composite business morale index, combining surveys of the manufacturing, retail, construction and services sectors, increased in February to 99.8 from 99.2, with only the construction sector showing a decline.
However, consumer confidence fell this month to 111.4 from 111.8 in January, in line with the median forecast in Reuters' poll.
More than 400 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Italy since Saturday, with 12 deaths, making it by far Europe's worst hit country.
Economic activity has slowed sharply in the wealthy northern regions at the centre of the outbreak. Public events have been cancelled, many companies have told employees to work from home, and bars and clubs have been forced to close early.
The eurozone's third largest economy was struggling even before the outbreak, with gross domestic product declining 0.3% in the fourth quarter of last year from the previous three months.
The government's official forecast is for weak growth of 0.6% this year, but following the virus outbreak many economists now expect a full-year contraction.