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French consumer confidence, trade point to improving outlook

Customers push shopping trolleys on an escalator at the Bercy shopping centre in Charenton Le Pont, near Paris, August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Cha
Customers push shopping trolleys on an escalator at the Bercy shopping centre in Charenton Le Pont, near Paris, August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Cha

PARIS (Reuters) - French consumer confidence improved slightly more than expected in August and imports rebounded in July, signs that domestic demand in the euro zone's second biggest economy is perking up.

The INSEE official statistics agency said that its index of consumer confidence rose for the second month running to 84 from 82 in July, just topping analysts' expectations for a reading of 83.

Its monthly sentiment survey found in particular that fewer households were now reporting a downbeat outlook on the economy after a measure of their personal views on this front hit an all-time low in June.

In a separate report, data from the customs office showed France's trade deficit widened slightly in July to 5.1 billion euros ($6.7 billion) from 4.1 billion in June.

Imports - a reflection of firming domestic demand for goods - rose 2.5 percent, boosted by increased deliveries of crude oil and natural gas but also manufactured goods, chemicals and clothes.

The increase in imports outpaced a 0.9 percent rise in exports even though Airbus and business airplane deliveries rose in July, the customs office said.

France emerged from a short, shallow recession in the second quarter with better-than-expected growth of 0.5 percent, though questions remain about whether that pace can be maintained over the rest of the year and whether the recovery will be anything more than tepid.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast on Tuesday that the 2-trillion-euro economy would grow 0.3 percent this year, lifting its estimate from -0.3 percent previously.

The improving economic outlook is a welcome development for the unpopular government of President Francois Hollande as it struggles to live up to a pledge to reverse a steady rise in unemployment before the end of the year.

A firming economy will also aid efforts to bring its budget deficit down to an EU-limit of 3 percent of economic output next year.

Monthly budget data showed the first improvement this year compared to last year, the budget ministry said.

The deficit was 4.68 billion euros lower in July compared to the same month in 2012 and was more than 12 billion euros lower when one-off revenues in 2012 and exceptional expenditures this year are excluded.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Brian Love and Patrick Graham)

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