PARIS (Reuters) - French business activity growth eased back in August compared with July, a survey showed on Thursday, with new orders stagnating as the euro zone's second-biggest economy battles the disruption to trade caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data compiler IHS Markit said its purchasing managers index (PMI) for the services sector fell to 51.5 points from 57.3 points in August.
The index remained above the 50-point threshold dividing an expansion in activity from a contraction, although the final reading for the August services PMI was weaker than the flash reading of 51.9 points.
IHS Markit's overall composite PMI index, which includes the services and manufacturing sectors, also fell back to 51.6 points in August from 57.3 in July - slightly below a flash reading of 51.7 points.
"The latest PMI data came as a disappointment following the sharp rise in private sector activity seen during July, which had spurred hopes that the French economy could undergo a swift recovery towards pre-coronavirus levels of output," said IHS Markit economist Eliot Kerr.
"Those hopes have been dashed and it is more likely that July was a temporary shock driven by a marked increase in the number of reopening businesses," he said.
"We can expect a steadier expansion, but even that comes with the risk of another sharp downturn if infection rates accelerate sufficiently for the government to impose another lockdown," Kerr added.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Hugh Lawson)