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Euro zone recovery accelerates more than expected in fourth quarter

A customer keeps his purchases in a bag at a wine shop in Alella, near Barcelona October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Albert Gea
A customer keeps his purchases in a bag at a wine shop in Alella, near Barcelona October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Albert Gea

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The euro zone economy grew more than expected in the last quarter of 2013 thanks to stronger expansion in its biggest countries France and Germany, the first estimate from the European Union's Statistics Office showed on Friday.

The economy of the 17 countries that shared the single currency in the last quarter rose 0.3 percent in the three months to December against the previous three months, after a 0.1 percent rise in the third quarter.

Analysts polled by Reuters expected a 0.2 percent quarterly rise. Compared with the same period of last year, euro zone gross domestic product rose 0.5 percent, above market expectations of a 0.4 percent rise.

The first estimate does not provide a detailed breakdown into GDP components, which will only be available on March 5.

The 9.5 trillion euro economy contracted 0.4 percent overall in 2013, Eurostat said. The European Commission expects it will grow 1.1 percent in 2014.

The gradually strengthening recovery still faces downside risks, mainly from turmoil in financial markets, disinflation and the slow pace of implementation of structural reforms.

Separately, Eurostat data showed the bloc's December foreign trade surplus grew to 13.9 billion euros from 9.8 billion euros in the same period last year, driven by a 4 percent year-on-year rise in exports, as imports rose only 1 percent.

Analysts polled by Reuters expected a 15.0 billion euro surplus in December, following a revised 17.0 billion euro surplus in November.

The euro zone's full year external trade surplus more than doubled to 153.8 billion euros last year, from 79.7 billion euros in 2012, with exports rising 1 percent and imports falling 3 percent.

(Reporting by Martin Santa)