Euro zone inflation higher than expected in December


Rising prices for food and services offset a drop in energy costs in the euro zone in December and kept inflation steady despite expectations of a fall, potentially signaling a slight pick-up in holiday spending over Christmas.

Annual inflation in the 17 countries sharing the euro was 2.2 percent in December, the same level as in November, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Friday, and above the 2.1 percent level forecast by economists in a Reuters poll.

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Consumer food prices climbed 3.1 percent in the month, rising slightly from November, while the cost of services, which makes up 40 percent of Eurostat's index, also increased.

Energy prices rose 5.2 percent, compared to a 5.7 percent rise in November and marking a gradual fall since December 2011.

Falling world energy prices and Europeans' reluctance to spend as the euro zone struggles through recession have brought the bloc's consumer price levels down over the past year.

Many economists expect inflation to fall to below the European Central Bank's target of close to, but not above, 2 percent during 2013.

For Eurostat releases on inflation and employment click on:

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Rex Merrifield)