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Euro-area economic confidence increases to highest since 2011

The European Central bank will "review and possibly reconsider" it monetary policy stance when it next meets in March because of weaker-than-expected inflation dynamics in the eurozone, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Thursday.

[MADRID] Euro-area economic confidence unexpectedly rose in December in a sign that new stimulus from the European Central Bank may be providing impetus to the region's fragile recovery.

An index of executive and consumer confidence jumped to 106.8 from 106.1 in November, the European Commission in Brussels said on Thursday. That's the highest since April 2011 and compares to a median estimate for a drop to 106 in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Unemployment fell to 10.5 per cent in November, according to a separate report from Eurostat.

The pick-up in confidence gives the Frankfurt-based central bank some respite after investors expressed disappointment over its latest stimulus effort to nurture growth and return inflation toward 2 per cent speedily. While surveys of purchasing managers point to a slowly strengthening recovery, weakening global trade is threatening exports.

"The economy continued to expand at a somewhat above-trend pace at the end of 2015," said Gizem Kara, senior European economist at BNP Paribas SA in London. "Looser financial and monetary conditions on the back of further ECB stimulus, some easing in fiscal policy and low commodity prices should continue to provide support to growth in 2016." A gauge for sentiment in industry rose to minus 2 in November from minus 3.2, and a measure for confidence in services increased to 13.1 from 12.8, the Commission said. Sentiment among consumers and builders also improved.

Joblessness in the region fell to the lowest in four years in November, ranging from 4.5 per cent in Germany to 21.4 per cent in Spain, the European Union's statistics office said on Thursday. It didn't provide data for Greece. Youth unemployment in the euro area stood at 22.5 per cent.

Retail sales fell 0.3 per cent in November, marking the third consecutive decline, according to a separate report. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg predicted a 0.2 per cent increase. Sales were up 1.4 per cent on the year.

While ECB policy makers including President Mario Draghi have pointed to downside risks emanating from slowing growth in emerging markets, they also highlighted the boost to spending and investment from lower oil prices. Brent crude ended 2015 with the lowest annual average price in 11 years as the largest members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries keep pumping near record levels.

Euro-area inflation remained at 0.2 per cent in December. The weaker-than-anticipated print puts at risk ECB forecasts that see price growth accelerating to 1 per cent this year and 1.6 per cent in 2017. It also challenges calls for more stimulus, after officials extended quantitative easing by six months in December and took one of the bank's key interest rates further below zero. The ECB aims to keep inflation below but close to 2 per cent in the medium term.