Unemployment hits a record high in Spain

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The Independent Online

Spain's woes have reached a new peak as the beleaguered nation's austerity programme drove unemployment to a record 26 per cent, official figures showed.

The latest blow for the eurozone struggler left almost six million people out of work in the quarter to December after 691,700 more people lost their jobs in the past year.

Youth unemployment has hit a record 55 per cent and there are now 1.8 million households in which nobody has a job.

Economic powerhouse Germany provided better news elsewhere in the eurozone, fuelling hopes the single currency bloc could pull out of its double-dip recession early this year.The country's private sector saw its strongest growth for a year as services firms roared ahead and manufacturers returned to growth, according to the financial data provider Markit's latest health check.

The upbeat performance contrasts with France, which saw the worst month for the private sector since March 2009.

Across the eurozone overall, the slowest rate of contraction for 10 months fostered hopes that it reached the trough of its present downturn last autumn.

Markit's chief economist, Chris Williamson, said: "A return to growth looks to be on the cards during the first half of 2013."