The euro area private sector expanded at a faster-than-initially-estimated pace in December, final survey data from IHS Markit showed Monday.

The composite output index rose to 50.9 in December from 50.6 in November. The flash reading was also 50.6.

Despite the improvement to a four-month high, the index continued to post at a level amongst the lowest seen since the first half of 2013, Markit said.

The PMI data suggest the euro area will struggle to have grown by more than 0.1 percent in the closing three months of 2019, Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said.

At face value, the weak performance is disappointing given additional stimulus from the European Central Bank, with the drag from the ongoing plight of the manufacturing sector a major concern, Williamson added.

The survey revealed marked divergence between the manufacturing and services economies. Manufacturing output declined at a rate not exceeded for nearly seven years.

The growth was centered on the service sector as it reached a four-month high. The services Purchasing Managers' Index advanced to 52.8 from 51.9 a month ago. The score was above the flash 52.4.

At the national level, there was some positive news in Germany, where there was a return to marginal growth following three months of contraction.

Germany's final composite PMI climbed to 50.2, while it was estimated to remain unchanged at 49.4. With goods production down markedly on the month, growth was driven by the service sector. The services PMI improved to 52.9 from 51.7. The flash score was 52.0.

Spain registered a solid rate of expansion, as did France. Signaling the fastest growth since April, Spain's composite PMI advanced to 52.7 from 51.9 in November. The services PMI came in at 54.9, up from 53.2. This was the highest since March.

The France final composite output index climbed to 52.0, in line with estimate, from 52.1 in November. The growth was driven by services. The services PMI rose to 52.4 from 52.2 a month ago. The flash score was 52.4.

In contrast, Italy remained inside negative territory for the second straight month. The composite PMI declined to 49.3 from 49.6 in November. The downturn was driven by the fastest fall in manufacturing output for nearly seven years. Meanwhile, the services PMI rose to 51.1 from 50.4 in previous month.

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