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Eurozone Unemployment Holds Steady At 11.7 Percent

James Ashley, senior European economist at RBC Capital Markets, said the figures are "notably better than the consensus" and noted that the 16,000 monthly increase was the smallest since unemployment started rising again in May 2011.

Worthy of note, according to Ashley, is the 0.1 percentage point drop in the Spanish unemployment rate to 26.1 percent, the first monthly decline since the "pre-crisis halcyon days" of early 2007.

"It is still premature to call a turning point in the labor market cycle â¿¿ both for the euro area and for Spain â¿¿ but recent weeks do lend support to our forecast that conditions should begin to stabilize in the first half of 2013," said Ashley.

The unemployment numbers vary widely across the eurozone. While Greece's level in October was 26.8 percent (the country's statistics are compiled on a different timeframe), Austria enjoys under near full-employment levels with a 4.3 percent rate in December.

And while Greece's youth unemployment rate â¿¿ those aged under 25 â¿¿ Germany's is just 8 percent.

Unemployment across the broader 27-country EU also remained steady at 10.7 percent. This, according to Eurostat, compares with 7.8 percent in the U.S. and around 4 percent in Japan.

The best way to get unemployment down is economic growth and there has been little sign of that over the last few months. Even Germany, Europe's largest economy, has been slowing down sharply. Figures later this month are expected to show that the eurozone economy remained in recession in the final three months of 2012.

However, a closely-watched survey of current conditions in the manufacturing sector, suggested that there was reason for optimism.

The monthly purchasing managers index â¿¿ a gauge of business activity â¿¿ from financial information firm Markit rose to an 11-month high of 47.9 in January from December's 46.1. Though the measure remains below the 50 threshold that divides expansion from contraction, the index's trend points to the sector growing again over the coming months.

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