French business activity grew faster than expected in May, returning to levels not seen since before the November 13 attacks in Paris, a survey showed today.

This could be taken as a sign that brisk growth at the start of the year may be continuing this quarter. 

Data compiler Markit said that a preliminary reading of its monthly purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to 51.1 from 50.2 in April. Economists polled by Reuters had expected the same reading as last month.  

The improvement brought the index to its highest since October and further above the 50-point threshold dividing an acceleration in activity from a slowdown. 

But Markit chief economist Chris Williamson said growth was not yet strong enough to make headway against stubbornly high unemployment of around 10 percent. 

"It's a pick-up led by services, but offsetting that is the weakness in manufacturing that is a big worry. The manufacturing sector is still in decline, with exports falling," he added. 

Buoyed by an improving flow of new business, service sector activity rose to a seven-month high of 51.8 from 50.6 in April. Again, economists had expected the index to remain unchanged. 

The sector saw activity drop after the Novemeber 13 attacks that killed 130 people in shootings and bombings in and near Paris, with hotels and other tourist-related industries reporting that foreigners were staying away. 

In contrast to services, falling new orders in the manufacturing sector meant it remained in contraction in May at 48.3. That was an improvement from April's reading of 48 but fell short of the 48.8 forecast by economists.