* Consumer spending up 1.3 pct m/m, down 0.4 pct q/q
* Spending up on energy, food, down on clothes
By Ingrid Melander
PARIS, April 30 French consumer spending
rebounded in March, largely thanks to increased household
heating to combat unusually cold weather, but it was not enough
to stop a quarter-on-quarter decline.
Consumption, which accounts for over half of France's
output, is the motor of the French economy but high
unemployment is making households cautious about spending.
The March 1.3 percent increase beat analyst expectations of
an 0.1 percent rise. Spending was down 0.4 percent in the first
quarter after the first annual contraction in nearly two decades
in 2012, INSEE statistics service data showed on Tuesday.
The cold weather was behind most of March's increase.
Households spent 2.8 percent more on energy than in February and
11.2 percent more than a year ago. They also spent more on food
but less on clothes and shoes.
The government forecasts that household consumption will
barely grow by 0.2 percent overall this year and contribute to
keeping the economy just out of recession.
But many economists view the forecast as too optimistic and
instead predict a slight contraction at a time when INSEE data
shows consumers have the most pessimistic view on record on how
their standard of living will evolve
Opinion polls have shown recently that people in the euro
zone's second-largest economy expect their purchasing power to
contract further this year after shrinking in 2012 for the first
time in nearly thirty years.
A Mediaprism survey showed earlier this month that 77
percent of respondents reckon purchasing power will contract.
Some 58 percent plan to cut spending in the coming months.
Around two thirds will cut down on leisure activities and
nearly as many on clothing and 40 percent will spend less on
food, the survey showed.
In contrast, in EU powerhouse Germany, criticised in France
for insisting on austerity, consumer morale rose to its highest
since October 2007, data showed on Tuesday.
Consumer confidence in the euro zone as a whole started to
rebound at the end of last year and improved again in April,
according to a monthly survey from the European Commission.