By Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) - Morale amongst Italian businesses and consumers plunged to multi-year lows in May, data showed on Thursday, as sentiment was shattered by the coronavirus epidemic and government-imposed restrictions to try to curb it.
National statistics institute ISTAT's manufacturing confidence index dropped to 71.2 in May from 87.2 in March. ISTAT did not conduct its survey in April because of technical difficulties connected to the government's lockdown to contain the virus.
May's data was below a median forecast of 79.0 in a Reuters survey of 10 analysts.
ISTAT's composite business morale index, combining surveys of the manufacturing, retail, construction and services sectors, fell more steeply to 51.1 in May compared with March's reading of 79.5.
The May index level was the lowest since the current series began in March 2005, ISTAT said.
The consumer confidence index fell this month to 94.3 from 100.1 in March, posting its lowest level since December 2013.
Analysts had expected an even steeper drop, with the median forecast in Reuters' poll pointing to 88.5.
More than 33,000 people have died of the coronavirus in Italy since its outbreak emerged on Feb. 21, the third largest toll in the world after those of the United States and Britain.
The euro zone's third largest economy shrank a preliminary 4.7% in the first quarter from the previous three months, the steepest quarterly decline since the current gross domestic product series began in 1995.
The government's official forecast is for a full-year GDP drop of 8% this year. Some economists and think-tanks expect an even larger contraction.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones)