CORRECTED-Greek mood gauge hits best level for more than 3 years
(Corrects year in monthly column headings of table) * Greek economic sentiment at highest level since Nov. 2009 * Survey does not reflect Cyprus crisis impact * Consumers remain depressed amid record unemployment ATHENS, April 4 (Reuters) - Greece's economic sentiment gauge improved in March to its highest level since the country's debt crisis began at the end of 2009, but remains far below its long-term average, data showed on Thursday. The Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) sentiment index for an economy in its sixth straight year of recession rose to 88.1 points from 86.9 in February. The country's long-term average is 96.1. The index, based on consumer confidence and business outlook gauges across the economy, has improved since a Greek election in June and a new funding deal with international lenders in November that eased worries the country might leave the euro. The survey was largely completed before the Cyprus crisis and may not reflect new uncertainties after the raid on bank deposits as part of the island's 10 billion euro bailout. IOBE said there were improved readings in industry and retail trade, but the outlook on the services and construction sectors weakened. While the payment of arrears owed by the state had a positive impact, unemployment continued to rise, particularly long-term joblessness, diminishing tax-paying ability and pension system revenues, IOBE said. Greek consumers, the main driver of the economy, remain the most pessimistic in Europe amid record unemployment as Athens applies austerity policies to shore up public finances and keep bailout aid flowing. The jobless rate has climbed above 26 percent, the highest rate in the 17-nation euro zone. The economy is expected to contract by about 4.5 percent this year, meaning that GDP will shrink by almost a quarter in 2008-2013. IOBE provided the following data: ********************************************************** YR AVERAGE MARCH '13 FEB '13 JAN '13 2012 2011 OVERALL SENTIMENT 88.1 86.9 85.8 80.0 80.6 -industrial 87.1 84.4 83.7 77.2 76.9 -services 60.4 62.3 58.9 54.8 61.7 -retail trade 64.2 60.3 62.6 57.1 58.9 -construction 47.1 55.0 38.5 43.2 34.2 -consumer confidence -71.2 -71.4 -71.9 -74.8 -74.1 -------------------------------------------------------------- source: IOBE (Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; editing by Stephen Nisbet)
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