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Italy business morale rises in March but consumer sentiment drops

·1-min read

ROME, March 26 (Reuters) - Morale amongst Italian businesses rose in March despite an ongoing coronavirus crisis but consumers sentiment declined, data showed on Friday, as Mario Draghi's new government took its first steps.

National statistics institute ISTAT's manufacturing confidence index jumped this month to 101.2 from 99.5 in February, beating expectations and posting its highest reading since July 2019.

The median forecast in a Reuters survey of 11 analysts had pointed to 99.4.

ISTAT's composite business morale index, combining surveys of the manufacturing, retail, construction and services sectors, posted a more modest rise, coming in at 93.9 compared with February's reading of 93.3.

However, consumer confidence fell this month to 100.9 from 101.4 in February, coming in marginally above a median forecast of 100.7 in Reuters' poll.

More than 106,000 people have died of the coronavirus in Italy since its outbreak emerged 13 months ago, the second highest toll in Europe and the seventh highest in the world.

The euro zone's third largest economy contracted by 8.9% last year, ISTAT reported this month, its steepest post-war decline in gross domestic product.

Rome's official forecast is for a rebound of 6% this year, but with the restrictions on businesses still in place to try to curb the virus epidemic most economists expect a significantly weaker result.

ISTAT's own forecast is for a growth rate of 4% this year.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones, gavin.jones@thomsonreuters.com; +390685224350; Reuters Messaging: gavin.jones.reuters.com@reuters.net)