Data compiler IHS Markit said its final purchasing managers’ index for manufacturers rose to 59.3 in March from 56.1 in February to hit the highest point since September 2000.
That was better than the 58.8 recorded in a preliminary reading and took the indicator even further above the 50-point line denoting growth in activity.
“Latest PMI data pointed to a very strong performance by the French manufacturing sector in March, giving further indication that demand conditions are improving ahead of the anticipated reopening of the global economy later this year,” IHS Markit economist Eliot Kerr said.
“While the recent introduction of lockdown measures in Paris serves as a reminder that the pandemic is still very much alive, these PMI results show that manufacturing conditions are on the path to recovery,” he added.
The improvement came as the government tightened coronavirus restrictions on the capital region and much of northern France in the face of rising new infections and a faltering vaccine campaign.
While service firms like restaurants, hotels and non-essential stores have been hit hard by the restrictions, manufacturers have been able to ramp up operations as new orders rolled in at the fastest pace in over three years, with export orders the strongest since records began in April 1998.
Over 40% of companies surveyed anticipated an increase in production over the next year on hopes that COVID-19 restrictions would eventually be phased out, IHS Markit said. Only 11% were expecting a decline, it added. (Writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Hugh Lawson)