UPDATE 1-Sweden jobless rate drop underlines expected economic improvement
* Unemployment, confidence figures improve
* Swedish growth seen low but steady
* Nordic state one of most robust economies in Europe
STOCKHOLM, June 19 (Reuters) - Swedish unemployment has eased and confidence data improved, data showed on Wednesday, underscoring an outlook for modest but steady growth that will gather pace late this year.
The data also decreases the chance of a new rate cut.
Sweden, one of the few AAA-rated countries in Europe, came through the sovereign debt crisis relatively unscathed, although its exporters have seen a sharp drop in demand. Growth this year is expected to be one of the strongest in the EU, however.
The statistics office said unemployment fell to 8.2 percent in May from 8.7 percent in April, beating analysts' expectations for an unchanged rate.
"We have had stronger GDP, we got inflation which took away a large part of the low April number and now we have jobless data which also fell in a positive way for the central bank," said Swedbank economist Knut Hallberg.
He said the jobs data boosted expectations for unchanged rates when the central bank meets in July. The crown firmed against the euro after the news.
The jobs data was released after confidence data compiled by the National Institute of Economic Research (NIER) showed consumers and manufacturing businesses were more upbeat, even if the manufacturing sector is still weaker than normal.
The NIER said in new forecasts that it expected gross domestic product to grow 1.5 percent this year and 2.5 percent next year and that the central bank would keep its repo rate at 1 percent, before raising in 2015. GDP rose 0.8 percent in 2012.
"Households are in a good position to spend more, with rising real disposable income, a historically high saving ratio and high levels of wealth, and household consumption will be an important driver of demand, especially this year," NIER said.
"Next year, external demand will grow more quickly, and exports will make a greater contribution to the recovery," it added.
(Reporting by Mia Shanley, editing by Patrick Lannin/Jeremy Gaunt)