March 19, 2019 / 5:07 PM / a month ago

French growth seen firming as impact of protests wanes: INSEE

PARIS (Reuters) - French quarterly growth will firm in the first half the year as consumer spending benefits from improving household incomes and recovering business confidence after protests at the end of last year, the INSEE statistics agency said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers carry shopping bags as they take care of their last-minute Christmas holiday gift purchases outside department stores in Paris, France, December 23, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The euro zone’s second-biggest economy is set to post growth of 0.4 percent in both the first and second quarters, up from 0.3 percent in the final three months of last year, INSEE forecast in its quarterly economic outlook.

The economy would have grown 0.4 percent at the end of last year as well if it were not for the impact of the yellow vest anti-government unrest, which INSEE estimated at 0.1 percentage point.

Protests in December saw some of the worst street violence in Paris in decades with rioters rampaging through upmarket neighborhoods, smashing store windows and burning cars.

With the exception of a flare-up last weekend, the violence has largely subsided since President Emmanuel Macron offered concessions in December worth more than 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion) in a package intended to boost the incomes of the poorest workers and pensioners.

INSEE said higher incomes would help consumer spending rebound 0.5 percent in the first quarter after flatlining at the end of last year in the face of the unrest, which forced many stores in central Paris to be boarded up during the peak holiday shopping period.

Business investment was also expected to recover in the first half of the year as confidence firmed albeit not to rates seen before a slowdown at the end of last year.

INSEE saw a limited impact to the French economy from Britain’s departure from the European Union, in theory still planned for the end of the month.

It estimated an orderly Brexit would knock a cumulative 0.3 percent off French growth over several quarters, while the impact could be as much as 0.6 percent if London failed to reach a Brexit deal with the EU and tariffs were raised.

That was much less than impact INSEE estimated for Ireland (-1.4 to -4.1 percent) and Germany (-0.5 percent to -0.9 percent), as both countries are closer trade partners with Britain that France.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Myriam Rivet; Editing by Alison Williams

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