BRUSSELS Euro zone employment rose for the second consecutive quarter in the first three months of the year in a sign the recovery was finally helping the labor market and a widening trade surplus signaled a further positive contribution to growth in April.
The number of persons employed in the 18 countries sharing the euro rose by 0.1 percent on the quarter in the three months to March and was up by 0.2 percent on the year, the first annual rise since third quarter of 2011, the European Union's statistics office said.
In Germany, the euro zone growth engine, employment rose 0.3 percent on the quarter and 0.8 percent on the year. In Portugal, which exited an international bailout in May, employment fell 0.3 percent on the quarter, but jumped 1.8 percent year-on-year.
Employment in Greece rose on the quarter and slowed its annual fall to 0.5 percent from 2.6 percent in the last quarter of 2013, signaling that also the euro zone's troubled periphery was experiencing a gradual recovery in labor markets.
But despite four consecutive quarters of economic growth still 18.7 million people were without jobs in April and the jobless rate remains close to record highs seen last year.
Separately, data showed that net trade made a positive contribution to growth in April as the trade surplus increased to 15.7 billion euros ($21.38 billion), from 14.0 billion in the same period of 2013.
The higher surplus was mainly because imports, down 3 percent year-on-year, slowed more than exports, which fell only 1 percent in April on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected the trade surplus to narrow to 13.9 billion euros in April from the originally reported 17.1 billion surplus in March.
EU exports to Russia, with which relations are tense because of Russian annexation of Crimea, fell 12 percent on the year on a non-seasonally adjusted basis in the first three months of the year, Eurostat said.
Imports from Russia, which is the EU's fourth biggest trade partner, fell 9 percent on the year in the first quarter.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros)
(Reporting by Martin Santa)