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Eurozone business activity index falls at steepest rate to record low – IHS

The private sector in the eurozone nosedived into contraction territory in March as the coronavirus outbreak led to a record slump in output, final data from IHS Markit showed.

The Composite Purchasing Managers' Index, or PMI, fell at the steepest monthly rate to 29.7, the lowest reading since the survey began in 1998, from 51.6 in February. The latest print missed the preliminary estimate and the consensus estimate of economists polled by Econoday, both of which stood at 31.4.

The index was primarily dragged by a record slump in the Services Business Activity Index, which sank to an all-time low of 26.4 from 52.6. Manufacturing output declined at the sharpest rate since April 2009.

The composite PMI for all major economies — Germany, France, Italy and Spain — plummeted to a survey low in March.

In Germany, a record contraction in service sector activity led private-sector output to slump at the steepest rate in the series' history, with the composite PMI dropping to 35.0 from 50.7 and trailing expectations of 37.2. The French composite PMI also fell at the sharpest rate to 28.9 from 52.0, missing estimates of 30.2.

Italy's composite PMI plunged to 20.2 from 50.7 and the Spanish PMI dropped to 26.7 from 51.8.

Incoming new work worsened to the greatest extent in the survey's history as government restrictions weighed on demand and activity. Employment dropped at the steepest rate since June 2009, with Spain leading job losses across the nations.

Business confidence in the eurozone fell to the lowest level since the data was first recorded in July 2012, with sentiment sinking to record lows across all economies amid uncertainty regarding the outbreak.

"The data indicate that the eurozone economy is already contracting at an annualized rate approaching 10%, with worse inevitably to come in the near future," said IHS Chief Business Economist Chris Williamson.