France's services sector shrank slower than first estimated in September but still at the fastest rate in almost three years as falling new orders and export business weighed on the euro zone's second-biggest economy, a survey showed on Wednesday.

The HCOB France final purchasing managers index (PMI) for the services sector, compiled by S&P Global, fell to 44.4 points - its lowest level since November 2020 - from 46.0 points in August.

That was above September's initial "flash" reading of 43.9 points, but far below the 50 point mark denoting growth in activity. The index has now been below that line for four months in a row.

The final composite PMI figure for August - which comprises both the services and manufacturing sectors - was also not as low as first reported at 44.1 points, down from 46.0 in August but up from the 43.5 initially estimated.

It was the lowest final reading since November 2020, when France was in the middle of its second COVID-induced lockdown.

"The French services sector is in troubled waters. According to the HCOB PMI, business activity continued to fall for the fourth month in a row. For now, there is no sign of a trend reversal," said Norman Liebke, economist at Hamburg Commercial Bank.

"In line with activity trends, new business at home and abroad continues to weaken (...) We might be in for a bumpy ride with jobs soon. Although hiring is still going strong, sooner or later there will most likely be a cooling of this hiring spree if the trend of declining activity continues." (Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Hugh Lawson)