) -- Retail sales in Europe rose at the fastest rate in more than two years in December according to a report from Markit, a global financial information service.

Markit's Eurozone Retail Purchasing Managers Index for December rose to 52.9 from 51.3 in November, marking the ninth-highest reading over the past seven years. Readings for the fourth quarter indicated retail sales had grown at a pace not seen since the fourth quarter of 2006."The latest data suggest that consumer spending growth will accelerate in the final quarter of 2010, with German consumers leading the way and France appearing to have emerged from protest-related disruption in the autumn," said Trevor Balchin, senior economist at Markit.

France and Germany led growth, with Germany posting its third consecutive month of increases and France reporting its second. Retail sales in Italy declined.

"Growth of retail sales in December was supported by higher employment in the sector," said the report. "Eurozone retail workforces have expanded on average five times in the past six months."

-- Written by Ross Tucker in New York.

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