However, firms are still cutting prices, suggesting the ECB will have a tough time spurring inflation.
The jump in activity will provide a glimmer of hope for policymakers who have struggled to steer the monetary union towards growth with modest inflation, but may also support the ECB’s decision to buy sovereign bonds.
“For the first time since mid-2011 we’re seeing a broad-based improvement in growth,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at survey compiler Markit.
“This in part reflects increased confidence after the ECB announced quantitative easing, and we’ll see more improvements once asset purchases start in March,” he added.
Markit’s Composite Flash Purchasing Managers’ Index, based on surveys of thousands of companies and seen as a good growth indicator, rose to 53.5, its best since July, from a final reading of 52.6 last month.
That beat even the highest forecast in a Reuters poll and marked the 20th month above the 50 level that separates growth from contraction.
Mr Williamson said the index pointed to 0.3% GDP growth in the current quarter, matching a Reuters poll, saying a follow-through in March could push it up to 0.4%.
In a positive sign for future activity, the gauge of new orders growth at services firms rose to 53.3 from 51.7. Growth in order backlogs rose to the highest level in nearly four years.