Private sector activity in the eurozone shrank for the fourth consecutive month in December but showed a slight improvement from the previous two months, a key survey showed Wednesday.
While output increased in Germany and stabilised in France, it slumped sharply in Italy and Spain, two nations under intense pressure over their high debts, according to the survey compiled by Markit research firm.
The purchasing managers' index (PMI), a survey of 4,500 manufacturing and services firms, stood at 48.3 points in December -- in line with analysts' expectations and better than a previous estimate of 47.9 points.
It had fallen to 47 in November. Any score below 50 indicates contraction.
"The uplift in the Eurozone PMI in December does little to dispel fears of the region sliding back into recession," said Markit chief economist Chris Williamson.
"Despite the upturn, the fourth quarter saw the steepest contraction since the spring of 2009, and forward-looking indicators suggest that a further decline is on the cards for the first quarter of 2012," he said.
Despite the December improvement, the overall performance in the last three months of 2011 was the worst quarterly score since the second quarter of 2009. The average score for the fourth quarter reached 47.2 points.
Germany's business activity grew in December, with Europe's top economy scoring 51.3 poin