French private business activity shrank again and at an accelerating rate in February, showing the sharpest fall since March 2009, a first estimate from a Markit survey showed on Thursday.
The survey of sentiment among purchasing managers is closely watched as a leading indicator of activity in the economy.
The initial reading showed 42.3 points on the Markit index, down from 42.7 in January and the lowest figure for 47 months.
A reading of 50 marks the line between signals of growth and contraction in the economy.
Markit economist Jack Kennedy said in a statement that the situation of private French business activity continued to worsen in February.
He said that the indicator suggested that the French economy could be heading in the first quarter of the year for the worst performance since the first quarter of 2009 when the country came to the end of a year of recession.
He pointed to a general state of economic gloom which left little room for optimism.