EUROZONE exports fell in the fourth quarter for the first time in more than three years, and investment declined as the sovereign debt crisis pushed the region deeper into a recession.

Exports from the euro area shed 0.9 percent in the last three months of 2012, helping drive gross domestic product down 0.6 percent, the European Union's statistics office said in a report yesterday. Exports last fell in the second quarter of 2009. Imports also fell 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter.

"Real economic activity is yet to show major improvement in many countries, and it looks highly likely that growth will remain a major struggle for the eurozone for some time to come," Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight in London, wrote in a note yesterday.

The 17-nation currency bloc's economy saw a third straight drop in the fourth quarter. The European Commission sees the economy falling 0.3 percent this year.

Gross fixed capital formation shed 1.1 percent from the previous three months when it fell a revised 0.8 percent, the report showed. Consumer spending dipped 0.4 percent, while government spending slipped 0.1 percent.

In Germany, Europe's largest economy, GDP fell 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter, from a 0.2 percent gain in the previous three months. France's economy shrank 0.3 percent, while Italy's GDP fell 0.9 percent.

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