By Martin Santa
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Output at euro zone factories rose much more strongly than expected in March, driven by energy production to show a second consecutive monthly increase and the highest jump in 20 months.
Industrial production in the 17 countries sharing the euro increased by 1.0 percent from February, its strongest rise since July 2011, beating market expectations for a 0.4 percent rise, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Tuesday.
The overall picture remained mixed as industrial output decreased in France and Italy, the bloc's second and third largest economies, highlighting the euro zone's problems in restarting economic growth and creating new jobs.
Total output in March was fuelled by an 3.8 percent increase in energy production month-on-month, a sector accelerating its pace from a 1.9 percent rise in the previous month and 0.1 percent in January.
Eurostat revised its industrial production figure for February downward to a rise of 0.3 percent from a rise of 0.4 percent.
Compared to March a year ago, industrial production showed a 1.7 percent drop, after a 3.2 percent fall in February.
Manufacturing of durable consumer goods like cars and refrigerators grew by 1.9 percent month-on-month in March, up from the 0.7 percent increase reported for February.
Production in Europe's largest economy Germany was up 1.7 percent in March from the previous month, while France swung to a 0.9 percent decline after a 0.8 percent rise in February.
Italy was also down by 0.8 percent on the month, following a 0.9 percent drop in the previous month.
Manufacturing from Germany, France, and Italy accounts for two-thirds of the bloc's output.
For details of Eurostat data click on: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/eurostat/home/
(Reporting by Martin Santa; editing by Rex Merrifield)