* Economic sentiment up by 1.6 points in December
* Hits long-term avg first time since July 2011
* Spain and Italy show strong improvement
* Business climate broadly unchanged in Dec
By Martin Santa
BRUSSELS, Jan 9 Euro zone economic sentiment
improved more than expected in December, reaching its long-term
average for the first time since July 2011 as all sectors
appeared to become more confident about the ongoing economic
Economic sentiment in the 17 countries sharing the euro
strengthened by 1.6 points to 100.0 in the ninth straight month
of gains, beating economists' expectations, data from the
European Commission showed on Thursday.
Of the bloc's five largest economies, morale in Spain jumped
4.0 points, 2.3 points in Italy and sentiment in the Netherlands
was up by 1.5 points in December.
The euro zone's largest economy Germany and the second
biggest France saw sentiment improving by 0.3 points in the last
month of the last year.
Euro zone consumer confidence was up 1.8 points in December
as households became more optimistic about future prospects
despite high unemployment, stuck at record high of 12.1 percent.
The Commission said that employment plans were revised
upwards in industry, and the retail and construction sectors and
were broadly unchanged in services.
A separate data release showed the business climate
indicator, which shows the stage in the economic business cycle,
edged lower to 0.27 in December from an upwardly revised 0.31 in
November, but it still beat market expectations of 0.22.