UPDATE 1-French consumer spending inches up in September

Wed Oct 31, 2012 4:45am EDT

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PARIS Oct 31 (Reuters) - Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said France's economy could have returned to positive growth in the third quarter as data on Wednesday showed consumer spending crept higher in September, bouncing back from a fall the previous month.

The euro zone's second-largest economy has posted zero growth for the last three quarters to end-June and the Bank of France predicts a contraction of 0.1 percent for the third quarter.

Most private economists also expect a small contraction when the preliminary reading for third-quarter growth is released on Nov. 15.

"When I see American and British growth returning, when I see ... manufacturing production which picked up in July and in August, I think we could have very slight growth in the third quarter," Moscovici told RMC radio.

Data from the INSEE national statistics office showed that consumer spending inched 0.1 percent higher in September, rebounding from a 0.8 percent fall in August. Analysts had forecast 0.2 percent growth.

September's small rise meant that for the third quarter as a whole consumer spending - the motor of France's 2 trillion euro economy - crept up by 0.2 percent.

The monthly rise was due mainly to an increase in spending on housing furnishings, while spending on food and energy slipped.

Producer prices, meanwhile, rose by a higher-than-expected 0.3 percent month-on-month in September, in a negative sign for corporate profit margins. With demand weak, French companies have struggled to pass price rises on to consumers.

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