Italian consumer morale rises more than expected in July

ROME (Reuters) - Italian consumer morale rose more than expected in July as sentiment improved over the health of the economy and personal finances, data showed on Thursday.

National statistics bureau ISTAT's headline consumer confidence index rose to 97.3 in July from an upwardly revised 95.8 in June, beating the median forecast of 96.0 in a Reuters survey of analysts.

July's figure was the highest in the series since July 2011, but part of the improvement is due to a revision of the pool of those surveyed introduced last month, ISTAT has said.

Sentiment regarding the current economic climate rose significantly while views on future prospects edged up only slightly, the data showed.

Italy has been struggling through its longest post-war recession, with the economy contracting in every quarter since the middle of 2011, but the new government has pledged to loosen a tough austerity program introduced last year.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta took office in April at the head of a left-right coalition that has suspended a hated housing tax and promised to cut labor taxes.

ISTAT's consumer confidence survey showed the sub-index measuring sentiment on the economy rose to 94.6 in July from 91.8 in June, while sentiment on respondents' personal finances increased to 98.7 from 97.7.

The sub-index on the current situation rose to 96.1 from 92.6 and the index on the future outlook edged up to 99.6 from 99.4.

Consumer spending has long been an Achilles heel of the Italian economy, which has been among the most sluggish in the euro zone for more than a decade.

Analysts say ISTAT's consumer confidence index shows little immediate correlation with spending patterns, though it does reflect longer term trends.

(Reporting By Catherine Hornby; Editing by Toby Chopra)