French business contracts to four-year low: PMI index

French business activity contracted at its sharpest rate since 2009 amid a deep crisis in confidence for companies in an economy skirting close to recession, according to data released Thursday by the survey firm Markit.

The survey of activity in the private sector from purchasing managers, an important leading indicator of economic activity, came in at 42.1, down from 43.1 in February and lower than a previous estimate of 42.3.

The result brought France even further from the 50 point mark that separates an economy from expansionary and recessionary trend.

"The latest Flash PMI data spell further bad news for the French economy, with the downturn in output accelerating to the sharpest in four years," said Jack Kennedy, Senior Economist at Markit.

"Again it's difficult to find any crumbs of comfort among the data, with new orders and backlogs both declining at sharper rates and employment cuts continuing," he said.

Markit's Flash PMI indicator is derived from a survey of 750 French business executives from both the services and manufacturing sectors.