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Steady French economic confidence defies euro-gloom in August - surveys

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Steady French economic confidence defies euro-gloom in August - surveys
FILE PHOTO - A man looks at children's snacks displayed on shelves as he shops at a Carrefour Hypermarket store in Montreuil, near Paris, France, February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau   -   Copyright  REGIS DUVIGNAU(Reuters)
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By Leigh Thomas and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – French consumers and businesses in August shrugged off the gloom settling in across much of the euro zone, with measures of confidence holding steady at relatively elevated levels, data showed on Tuesday.

Household confidence in the euro zone’s second biggest economy remained at its highest level in a year and a half, according to a survey from the INSEE official statistics agency.

Its confidence index was unchanged from July at 102 with households reporting concerns about unemployment retreating to a 10-month low.

A second INSEE survey into business confidence found the index was stable at 105, comfortably above the long-term average of 100.

The index for the industrial sector even improved slightly to 102 from 101, despite global trade tensions and a strong euro, which hurts exports.

In contrast, such concerns are crushing business confidence in Germany due to the dependence Europe’s biggest economy has on exports for growth.

While French companies are not yet giving into the gloom gripping their German counterparts, they are nonetheless not entirely immune and are reining their investment plans.

A third quarterly survey from INSEE found that French manufacturers expected on average to raise investment by 6% this year, whereas they had flagged 11% the last time they were polled in April.

France’s economy is benefiting this year from a more than 10 billion euro ($11.14 billion) package of measures aimed at boosting the incomes of the poorest workers and pensioners.

President Emmanuel Macron rolled out the measures, made up largely of tax breaks, after facing a series of violent anti-government protests last year, which was partly the result of concerns over dwindling purchasing power.

French consumers and business have also been taking heart at a steady decline in unemployment, which has long dogged previous presidents. It fell in the second quarter to 8.5%, the lowest level since the end of 2008, INSEE said earlier this month.

“We are delivering solutions that work and we have a level of growth that is solid, even if overall euro zone growth is insufficient and solutions are needed,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on French television LCI.

He added that for now he saw no reason to revise the government’s 2019 growth forecast of 1.4%, but promised an update when next year’s budget is presented at the end of September. Germany’s government expects growth this year of only 0.5%.

($1 = 0.8973 euros)

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Leigh Thomas; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Jon Boyle)

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