February 25, 2021

Euro-Area Economy Seen Almost Stalling

The data confirms fears that the government austerity programs are taking their toll on the European economy, undercutting efforts to contain the sovereign debt crisis.

Gross domestic product in the 17-nation euro area rose 0.2 percent in the second quarter of 2011 compared to the previous quarter, according to Eurostat, the European Union statistics agency. Euro area growth was down from 0.8 percent in the first quarter.

G.D.P. growth in Germany, which has been the region’s economic locomotive, fell to 0.1 percent compared to the previous quarter, when the economy expanded 1.3 percent, the Federal Statistical Office said. Analysts had expected growth of 0.5 percent.

“It now looks like growth is slowing in core countries too,” Christoph Weil, an economist at Commerzbank, wrote in a note. “This could intensify the sovereign debt crisis in so far as the readiness and ability of countries with high credit ratings to help crisis-stricken countries will drop as a result. This could trigger a downward spiral in economic growth.”

Instead, what impetus remains in the European economy came from countries like Finland, Austria and Belgium. Even Italy, with growth of 0.3 percent compared to the previous quarter, outperformed Germany in the second quarter.

Germany’s economic rebound since the recession of 2009, driven by exports of cars, machinery and other goods to China and other emerging markets, has helped counterbalance weak growth in southern Europe. If Germany slows, the challenges posed by Europe’s sovereign debt crisis will become that much more daunting.

The German figures, which were seasonally adjusted, follow data on Friday that showed that the French economy, Europe’s second-largest, did not grow at all in the second quarter. Slower growth means that tax receipts will also fall, which will make it harder for Germany and France to support countries like Italy and Spain that are finding it increasingly difficult to borrow money at interest rates they can afford.

However, slower growth will probably also lead to lower inflation, which will give the European Central Bank more leeway to keep interest rates low and intervene in bond markets. Since last week the E.C.B. has been buying Italian and Spanish debt on the open market to hold down yields, which had risen above 6 percent, a rate that would have become eventually proved ruinous for the two countries.

The slowdown in Germany was caused by slower household consumption and construction investment, the statistics office said. In addition, imports rose faster than exports and led to a buildup of inventories.

Analysts at Commerzbank said that a warm spring meant that construction projects in Germany could begin earlier than usual, subtracting some activity from the second quarter. Without that effect growth for the quarter would have been 0.4 percent, he said.

The slowdown in Germany came despite an increase in the number of persons employed. The statistics office said 41 million people were employed in Germany, an increase of 553,000 people or 1.4 percent from a year earlier, according to preliminary figures.

The slowdown in Germany was foreshadowed by results from companies like Deutsche Bank and Siemens in recent weeks that fell short of analyst expectations, and reinforced the feeling that the extraordinarily fast pace of German growth was flattening. E.On, Germany’s largest utility, said last week that it might need to cut as many as 11,000 jobs after experiencing its first loss in a decade.

E.On attributed the loss chiefly to the government’s decision to force some of the company’s nuclear power plants to close early, but sales declines in foreign markets like Britain and Hungary also played a role.

Greece is already in recession, while growth in Spain is slowing down more than expected this year. The Portuguese government expects the economy to contract 2.3 percent this year, compared to a previous forecast of 2 percent.

However, Eurostat said that Portuguese growth was zero in the second quarter, an improvement over the decline of 0.6 percent in the first quarter.

The euro area trade surplus also improved slightly in June, to 900 million euros from 200 million euros in May, Eurostat said. Germany’s surplus of 9 billion euros remained by far the largest of any European country.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cb53a362973fb26bc5c807d03ce1acad

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