Jonathan Cable London

Robust growth in the global services industry outshone a lacklustre performance from manufacturers last month, pushing firms to increase headcount to meet buoyant demand, business surveys showed yesterday.

Following a solid start to the year, the latest survey data add to evidence that the global economy is slowly recovering, with growth becoming more broad-based. Led by Germany, services businesses in the euro zone enjoyed their fastest growth rate in more than two-and-a-half years.

Outside the single currency area, Britain’s services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) dipped but stayed strong. Data due later yesterday was expected to show a similar growth slowdown in the US.

Activity in China’s services sector ticked up last month from January’s two-and-a-half-year low, confirming other data showing a pick-up in services even as manufacturing activity slows.

“The outlook for the year is reasonably good and we now forecast for growth to be slightly stronger than last year,” Andrew Kenningham, a senior economist at Capital Economics, said.

Germany’s composite PMI for services and manufacturing soared to a 33-month high but France’s fell further below the break-even mark for contraction, where it has languished for most of the past two years.

Italy, the third-biggest economy in the 18-nation bloc, and Spain, the number four, both posted robust growth.

The gulf between expansion in top economy Germany and the decline in France, the euro zone’s second biggest, has only been wider once in the 16-year history of the surveys. “What is maybe more surprising is that France is doing worse than Italy and Spain,” Kenningham said.

Services firms in the euro zone took on more workers for only the second time in more than two years while UK firms hired staff at the fastest pace in the 16-year history of the survey.

In contrast, manufacturing in Europe and Asia grew slower last month, put under pressure by falling demand from abroad, although US manufacturing activity expanded at its fastest pace in over three years.

Still, Markit’s final euro zone composite PMI was revised up to 53.3 from a flash reading of 52.7. Markit said the surveys suggested the euro zone was on course to grow 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent this quarter, the fastest expansion in three years.

HSBC’s services PMI for China showed activity at a three-month high, while two surveys showed Chinese manufacturing activity slowed last month. – Reuters