PARIS - The French economy finished 2018 on a firmer footing than expected despite violent "yellow vest" protests, although it still fell short of the government's target for the full year, official data showed on Wednesday.
Strong exports helped offset a slowdown in consumer spending which was hit in the fourth quarter by waves of anti-government protests that forced many stores in Paris to board up during the crunch pre-holiday period.
As a result, the euro zone's second-biggest economy grew 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2018, the same rate registered in the previous three months, said the INSEE statistics agency.
The preliminary reading topped expectations for growth of only 0.1 percent in a Reuters poll of 32 economists.
Nevertheless, it meant the French economy grew 1.5 percent for all of 2018, short of the government's forecast for 1.7 percent and down from a decade-high rate of 2.3 percent the previous year.
"Fourth quarter growth proved robust, despite the hit from protest action. But there are signs that underlying economic momentum has slowed," Morgan Stanley economist Matthew Pennill wrote in a research note.
In the fourth quarter, household spending - traditionally the motor of French growth - slowed to a standstill after 0.4 percent growth in the previous three months as Paris saw the worst street violence since the 1968 student protests.
Meanwhile, business investment also slowed sharply, to growth of only 0.3 percent in the quarter from 1.7 percent in the previous quarter as business confidence collapsed amid the unrest that left many stores boarding up shopfronts in Paris.
Yet an end of the year spurt in export shipments helped lift growth. Export growth came in at 2.4 percent, outpacing import growth of 1.6 percent.
As a result, foreign trade added 0.2 percentage points to overall growth, while business inventory drawdowns trimmed output back 0.1 percentage points.
In recent years, France has seen exports surge at the year end as Airbus rushes to ship aircraft before the end of the year, triggering a concomitant drawdown in inventories.