Wary French shoppers drag down Feb euro zone sales

Trade in euro zone shops was weaker than expected in February, raising doubts about how quickly the euro zone can recover from recession.

The retail trade volume for the 17 countries using the euro fell 0.3 percent month-on-month, data from the EU statistics office Eurostat showed on Friday.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a fall of 0.2 percent month on month. The statistics office also revised down January's retail trade volume to a monthly rise of only 0.9 percent from a previous 1.2 percent.

The fall in retail trade volume shows weak consumer demand in the euro zone, which is trying to claw its way out of recession this year, against a slumping economy and three years of a debt crisis.

Taken as a whole, the euro zone's economy is to contract 0.3 percent this year, the European Commission forecasts, but there is a growing divergence between the relatively healthy German economy and the rest of Europe.

Trade at French shops dropped off significantly between January and February, with retail sales decreasing 2.2 percent. Some analysts have dubbed the country Europe's "sick man" as its economy struggles to eke out growth this year.

Retail sales in Belgium, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland also turned negative in February from growth in January.

On an annual basis, euro zone sales fell in February by 1.4 percent, less than expectations of a fall of 1.8 percent. But Eurostat revised January's annual figure down to a deeper fall of 1.9 percent from a previous fall of 1.3 percent.

Retail trade in countries undertaking austerity measures to shore up public finances was hit hard compared to last year, with Spain posting a 9.7 percent drop in volume, and Portugal showing a fall of 5.3 percent.

For further details of Eurostat data click on: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/eurostat/home

(Reporting By Ethan Bilby)