PARIS -- French manufacturers turned sharply brighter about their business prospects in May because activity was unexpectedly buoyant and orders were picking up, official survey data showed on Friday.
The French business climate has been deeply gloomy in line with the overall performance of the economy.
But the latest figures from the national statistics institute INSEE showed the index of manufacturing confidence rising by four points to 92.0 points in May from 88.0 points in April.
This took the level of confidence back up to the level of February, but fell short of 100 points which has been the average since 1976.
However, those questioned said that activity had turned out far better than they had expected.
Although orders from abroad slipped to give a reading of minus 29 in May from minus 26 in April, the effect was offset by domestic orders, so that orders overall picked up to a reading of minus 33 in May, from minus 40 the previous month.
This also remains far below the average since 1976 of minus 18.
But orders from abroad slipped back to give a reading of minus 29 in May from minus 26 in April.
The government has made raising the competitive position of French industry a priority, since the country is running a big structural trade deficit.
A trade surplus is a factor of growth in an economy, whereas a deficit tends to sap growth from investment, consumption and public expenditure.
Those questioned about the overall prospects for the manufacturing sector as a whole gave an assessment that was little changed, at minus 47 in May from minus 49 in April, but INSEE said that the baseline "remains at a very low level."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013