Euro zone business activity shoots up

Business activity in the euro zone hit a 46-month high in March, according to data released on Tuesday, bolstering hopes that growth in the region is becoming more entrenched.

Flash euro zone composite Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI) data from Markit came in at 54.1 in March, up from 53.3 in February, marking the fastest growth in almost four years. The composite reading measures both manufacturing and services activity, with the 50-point mark separating contraction from expansion.

A factory in Laupheim, Germany
Martin Leissl | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A factory in Laupheim, Germany

"The improvement was broad-based by sector. Growth of services business activity and new business both hit the highest since May 2011, accompanied by stronger rates of increase in both manufacturing output and new orders to the highest since May of last year," Markit said in a release.

In the euro zone's largest economy, Germany, business activity growth accelerated to the highest point in eight months. It's composite PMI came in at 55.3 in March, up from February's 53.8, with new order growth hitting a nine-month record.

In France, meanwhile, business activity expanded for the second successive month -- coming in at 51.7 in March -- although the rate of growth slowed from February's 42-month high of 52.2.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said the data was "welcome news" for the region, which is awaiting signs that the European Central Bank's (ECB) new quantitative easing program is stimulating the real economy.

Given the data, Williamson said he expects gross domestic product (GDP) to have expanded by 0.3 percent in the first quarter of the year.

The data comes after consumer confidence jumped to a near-eight-year high in March, flash data released by the European Commission on Monday showed -- the sharpest monthly gain in confidence since April 2009.

Howard Archer, chief U.K. and European economist at IHS, said that both data show that "euro zone economic activity is strengthening as very low oil prices, a weak euro, major ECB stimulus and much reduced fiscal headwinds foster an improved growth environment."