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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

Euro-zone growth loses steam amid global trade tensions

Expansion below estimates as concerns have likely translated into somewhat weaker domestic demand growth

ECB in Frankfurt, Germany. Euro-zone expansion may have been dampened by US trade war fears. Bloomberg
ECB in Frankfurt, Germany. Euro-zone expansion may have been dampened by US trade war fears. Bloomberg

Euro-zone economic growth slowed further in the second quarter, preliminary data showed, on what economists said were concerns over a possible trade war with the United States.

Separately, price growth accelerated due to higher energy prices, European Union statistics office Eurostat reported, although economists cautioned the uptick was unlikely to affect policy for now as energy effects are temporary, according to Reuters.

Eurostat estimated that gross domestic product in the 19 countries sharing the euro expanded 0.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the April-June period and was 2.1 per cent higher against the same period of 2017.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.4 per cent quarterly expansion and a 2.2 per cent year-on-year rise.

"Trade uncertainty seems to have already had a significant effect on the euro-zone economy in Q2," said Bert Colijn, a senior economist at ING bank.

"While the impact on real export growth has likely been small over the second quarter, the confidence factor has been more important," he said.

"With lower confidence among businesses and consumers, concerns have likely translated into somewhat weaker domestic demand growth. In an economy in which capacity constraints abound and credit conditions remain favourable, confidence is the likely factor keeping investment down," he said.

The euro zone's second-biggest economy France appeared to have been struggling with its own specific problems in the second quarter, as strikes and higher taxes hit consumer spending, but economists looked to the second half of the year for an upturn.

Italy’s economic growth slowed to the weakest pace in almost two years, possibly spelling trouble for the populist government’s costly projects.

Gross domestic product expanded 0.2 per cent in the three months through June, down from 0.3 per cent in the first quarter, statistics agency Istat said on Tuesday in Rome. The latest figure matched the median estimate of 26 analysts in a Bloomberg survey.

It was the lowest quarterly growth since the third quarter of 2016. Istat said foreign trade was a drag on economic expansion while domestic demand supported it.

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The Spanish economy unexpectedly slowed in the second quarter, a period that also saw the Socialist party take power in an abrupt change of government.

Output expanded 0.6 per cent in the three months to June, the National Statistics Institute said on Tuesday. That missed the 0.7 per cent median estimate in a Bloomberg survey and is the weakest since 2014. Growth in household consumption, a leading driver of the recovery, slowed by more than half.

Eurostat estimated that headline euro-zone consumer inflation accelerated to 2.1 per cent year-on-year in July from 2 per cent in June, mainly because of a spike in the cost of energy, which jumped to 9.4 per cent year on year from 8 per cent, Reuters reported.

Core inflation, which excludes energy costs as well as unprocessed food and which the European Central Bank (ECB) looks at in policy decisions, also rose to 1.3 per cent year-on-year from 1.2 per cent in June, beating economists expectations.

An even narrower core inflation measure that economists pay attention to, which excludes also the costs of alcohol and tobacco, also rose to 1.1 per cent from 0.9 per cent in July - again, above expectations. The ECB wants to keep headline inflation below, but close to, 2 per cent over the medium term.

"This is still weak and very much in line with ECB expectations. As the energy effects are temporary, the high inflation rate should be taken with a grain of salt from a policy perspective at the moment, so will the ECB," Mr Colijn said.

Economists said the higher inflation numbers would not trigger any policy tightening by the ECB yet.

"These numbers are unlikely to alter the view of the central bank," said Daniele Antonucci, economist at Morgan Stanley.

"It has made clear that it is taking its time before changing its rates and balance sheet guidance again. While Quantitative Easing should finish at year-end, we only see the first depo rate hike of 15 basis points to minus 0.25 per cent in October 2019. Reinvestments should continue for a long time, probably way past our 2019 forecast horizon," he said.

Separately, Eurostat said unemployment in the euro zone was at 8.3 per cent in June, unchanged from a downwardly revised 8.3 per cent in May. The lowest unemployment rate in the euro zone was in Germany at 3.4 per cent of the workforce, but it by less than expected in July, data showed, reflecting a cooling economy.

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