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Euro zone first-quarter economic growth stronger than expected, unemployment falls

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Euro zone economic growth was stronger than expected in the first quarter, rebounding strongly from a slump in the second half of 2018, while unemployment fell to its lowest rate in more than a decade, data showed on Tuesday.

The European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said that according to a preliminary estimate, gross domestic product in the 19 countries sharing the euro rose 0.4 percent quarter-on-quarter in the first three months of 2019, up from 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 0.1 percent in the third.

Year-on-year, euro zone GDP rose 1.2 percent, the same increase as in the last quarter of 2018.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.3 percent quarterly increase and a 1.1 percent annual expansion.

The European Central Bank, which put off tightening monetary policy at the end of last year amid persistently weak inflation, had expected first quarter GDP growth of 0.2 percent, accelerating to 0.3 percent in the second quarter.

Separately, Eurostat said that euro zone unemployment fell to 7.7 percent of the workforce in March with 12.630 million people seeking jobs against 7.8 percent of the workforce or 12.804 million people in February.

(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)

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