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French households wary of Hollande's "going better" claim

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If France's latest consumer confidence figures are anything to go by, President Francois Hollande is failing to convince voters that the economy is turning the corner as decisively as the deeply unpopular leader says it is.

[PARIS] If France's latest consumer confidence figures are anything to go by, President Francois Hollande is failing to convince voters that the economy is turning the corner as decisively as the deeply unpopular leader says it is.

A year away from a presidential election in which Mr Hollande has yet to say whether he will run, household confidence stagnated in April versus March at an eight-month low, data from the INSEE statistics agency showed on Wednesday.

The monthly survey of households also found expectations for their standard of living over the next 12 months declined for the fourth month running, reaching the lowest point since January 2015.

That jars with comments this month from Mr Hollande on prime-time television in which he said that his polices were bearing fruit and things were at last improving.

"Things are going better," he said. "Things aren't getting better yet. We'll have to see in a few months or so, but I'm not sure that it's getting better now," said Franck Puget, a 45-year-old worker in the insurance industry, stopped in a central Paris street by Reuters TV.

Mr Hollande can take some relief in monthly jobless figures published on Wednesday which showed that the number of people out of work fell in March by the most in over 15 years. The figures nevertheless raise some questions.

Much of the decline was due to people dropping out of the tally because they had not updated their job-seeker status.

That could be a sign they found work. However, with the average time people stay unemployed at a record 580 days, it could also be down to people giving up hope of finding a job and so not bothering to update their status.

Going by INSEE's survey, households are not yet buying into the idea that a sustained recovery in the labour market is taking hold. Unemployment fears rose in April to the highest level since October.

"There are not a lot of people that believe (in a recovery)", said Francoise Escoffier, a lawyer, told Reuters TV ahead of the data. "There's no reason to expect a decrease in unemployment and a stronger economy."

The government expects the economy to grow 1.5 per cent this year, but a Reuters poll this month of private economists showed that on average they expect 1.2 per cent - the same as last year.

Economists estimate anything less than 1.5 per cent growth would not be enough to get unemployment falling sustainably, which would be bad news for Mr Hollande since he has said he will not run for re-election unless joblessness comes down.

REUTERS