Euro-area consumer prices fell less than economists forecast last month, offering some relief to the European Central Bank (ECB) as it prepares to put its unprecedented bond-buying program into action.

The annual rate of inflation in the 19-nation bloc stood at minus 0.3 percent in February, according to data published by the European Union's statistics office in Luxembourg on Monday. Economists in a Bloomberg survey predicted a price decline of 0.4 percent after a 0.6 percent slump the previous month. Unemployment fell to 11.2 percent in January, the lowest since April 2012, according to revised Eurostat data.

The data come just three days before a Governing Council meeting that'll produce details on the ECB's 1.1 trillion-euro (US$1.2 trillion) asset-purchase program and an update on inflation and growth projections. While the latest data, along with an increase in oil from its recent low, may indicate the worst of the price slump is passing, the euro-region economy remains weak and burdened by high unemployment.

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