The French central bank today forecast that the economy would experience zero growth in the first quarter of 2012, reinforcing fears that France's recovery may be petering out.

The French economy grew by only 1.7% last year, according to the state statistics agency, and growth slowed to just 0.2% in the last quarter, mirroring stagnant output in the euro zone as a whole.

The Banque de France's statement said gross domestic product would be "stable" in the first quarter, confirming a forecast it made last month.

In January, President Nicolas Sarkozy's government was forced to halve its 2012 growth forecast from 1% to 0.5%, while the International Monetary Fund predicts a still more pessimistic 0.2%.

France is part of the euro zone single currency bloc, which appears to be headed into the second phase of a double-dip recession within the next three years, as governments battle yawning deficits with tough austerity measures.