March 1, 2024

Germany and France Surprise With Strong Growth

PARIS — The euro area’s two largest economies, Germany and France, showed surprising strength in the first quarter of the year, helping lift the entire continent’s performance despite sharp pain along the edges.

The Federal Statistics Office in Germany reported on Friday that gross domestic product grew 1.5 percent over the previous quarter, when harsh winter weather had held growth to just 0.4 percent.

The figure was well above analyst estimates and showed that Germany’s economy had recovered fully from its worst recession since World War II. “The pre-crisis level of early 2008 has been exceeded,” the office said.

France, too, surpassed expectations with growth of 1 percent, the steepest increase since spring 2006, according to the statistics office Insee in Paris. That compared to an increase of just 0.3 percent in the last quarter of 2010, and a median forecast of economists surveyed by Reuters and Bloomberg News of 0.6 percent.

Overall, the 17-nation euro area saw G.D.P. grow 0.8 percent compared to the previous quarter, according to the European Union’s statistics office. Germany and France account for nearly half of the region’s economic output.

The strains of austerity measures to rein in gaping deficts were more evident elsewhere.

Spain’s G.D.P. grew only 0.3 percent from the previous quarter, according to the National Statistics Institute in Madrid. That was slightly better than expected, but largely due to exports amid weak domestic demand and high unemployment. Portugal saw its second quarter of contraction, dropping 0.7 percent, according to Eurostat.

Greece, however, saw its first quarter of growth since 2008. Output grew 0.8 percent in the first quarter, according to Eurostat, compared to a decline of 2.8 percent in the final quarter of last year.

European stock markets and the euro were both up slightly in early trading. Economists called the reports encouraging, especially for Germany and France. But they warned that keeping up the momentum would be difficult.

“Looking forward, we expect growth to slow down to more moderate rates, as world trade growth loses some momentum and fiscal policy tightening and higher oil prices kick in,” Aline Schuiling, senior economist at ABN AMRO Bank in Amsterdam, wrote in a note. “Nevertheless, the German economy should continue to outperform the eurozone average by a wide margin.”

Oscar Bernal, an economist at ING Bank in Brussels, said that the pickup in industrial activity in France in particular “might just be a catch-up” after the year-end lull.

“All in all, we believe that the first quarter G.D.P. growth acceleration will only be temporary,” he said, adding that the French government would still face difficulties meeting its budget-deficit reduction targets.

Strong demand for exports such as automobiles has fueled the recovery in Germany, as in past recoveries. Domestic demand has typically trailed, leading to criticism from Germany’s trading partners. However, German consumers seem to be gaining confidence this time as unemployment falls sharply.

The German statistics office noted that, compared with the last quarter of 2010, domestic consumption was up “markedly,” along with investment by businesses in machinery and equipment and construction.

“The growth of exports and imports continued, too,” it said. “However, the balance of exports and imports had a smaller share in the strong G.D.P. growth than domestic uses.”

In Paris, the statistics office noted that manufacturing production soared 3.7 percent in the first quarter, the strongest growth for at least 30 years. Household consumption was also up, but only slightly. Imports grew more rapidly than exports, weighing on the overall growth figure.

Figures for the euro zone as a whole were due out later Friday.

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