Activity in the manufacturing and service sectors of the euro zone firmed for the fifth month in a row in August while still contracting, a key survey of buying managers shows today.

The index of purchasing managers' activity in the manufacturing and services sectors - by the Markit survey company - put the index at 47 points, higher than an earlier estimate and topping the 44.6 recorded in June.

It is the highest reading since August 2008, with the figures buoyed by near-stabilisation in Germany.

However, output has now fallen for 14 months in what has been by far the longest and deepest downturn in the 11-year history of the PMI survey.

Germany, Europe's industrial powerhouse, enjoyed a record rise in its index figures, allowing the euro zone as a whole to post the higher than expected figures.

In contrast, France was the only country to see an increased rate of business decline, contrasting with easings in the previous four months.

But overall the survey continues to reflect underlying weakness in these sectors because only a reading above 50 points signals expansion.

Activity in the services sector firmed to 45.7 points in July from 44.7 points in June, the slowest rate of contraction since last October.

June drop in euro zone sales

Retailers in the euro zone saw their sales fall in June, continuing a downward trend broken only in April this year, according to official EU data released today.

The volume of retail sales in the euro zone dipped 0.2% in June over one month and 2.4% over one year, the European Union's Eurostat data agency said. Revised figures showed euro zone retail trade in May down 0.5%.

There was better news for the 27-nation European Union as a whole, however, as retail trade increased there by 0.1% in June.