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The French services industry is in much heartier health than expected, with the purchasing managers’ index for the sector rising to 56.7, well above the 54.1 reading seen in January and defying expectations among economists polled by Bloomberg for a small drop to 53.9.

Manufacturing, however, disappointed a little, with the index dropping to 52.3 from 53.6, still in expansionary territory. The indices track sales, hiring, inventories and the like to try and form a rounded view of corporate health.

The preliminary composite reading struck a robust 56.2, up from 54.1 in January, painting an upbeat picture of the economy in the run-up to the presidential election.

IHS Markit, which compiles the indices (here’s its statement), noted:

Service providers continued to raise their activity levels in February, thereby extending the latest sequence of expansion to eight months. Furthermore, the rate of increase was the most marked in five-and-a-half years. Manufacturing output also increased markedly, albeit to a slightly lesser extent than their service sector counterparts.

It added:

Private sector companies maintained a positive outlook towards activity over the coming 12 months. Moreover, the degree of optimism strengthened from January and was the highest in over four-and-a-half years of data collection. Confident panel members commented on favourable economic conditions and positive sales forecasts.

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