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Last Updated: Friday, 24 February 2006, 09:58 GMT
Output fears dent Italian morale
Silvio Berlusconi
The confidence data comes as Mr Berlusconi fights for re-election
Italian business confidence fell for the first time in eight months in February, official figures showed.

Concerns about industrial output knocked morale among Italy's business leaders, the public research institute ISAE reported.

The seasonally adjusted business confidence index fell to 92.3 from a revised 92.5 in January, ISAE said.

The news comes as the government of Silvio Berlusconi gears up for national elections in April.

Upbeat consumers

Figures earlier this month showed that confidence among businesses in Germany and France - the eurozone's two largest economies - had gained on the back of strong global growth.

Despite February's fall, Italian business sentiment remains above a long-term average since 1991 of about 88.5, ISAE said.

The slight drop in business confidence contrasts with Italian consumer confidence figures released on Wednesday, which showed shoppers were more upbeat about the country's prospects.

Economists expect Italy's economy to pick up in the first three months of 2006 after a flat performance for much of 2005.

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